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Fruit, Grass, Chickens & Walnuts

It’s one of those posts! You know, the sort of post that collects all the lost things that wouldn’t make a post in and of themselves, but I find interesting enough to want to make a note about them. So here goes!

2016 gooseberriesPropogating gooseberries – it’s easy! This is one Colin, my father-in-law taught me. If you have access to a gooseberry bush, and you’d like another, just cut a 12″ twig off and stick it in the ground! Winter is the time to do it, when everything is dormant – the two green twigs on the left are simply twigs cut from a gooseberry bush on the left, and the two more developed plants on the right are branches cut from an existing bush! The reason we did this? Well – we had a bush but the pruning regime wasn’t right for us – they branched out too close to the base, and had thrown up a lot of new stems. Doing what we’ve done here we can propogate the plants, and form them to a more open bush style, which will hopefully be easier and less painful to pick from!

2016 fruit bedThis next image shows the cleaned soil of the main fruit bed. The currants are coming along nicely and we’re going to eventually fill the larger bed with strawberries, but this year, whilst we’re still cleaning it of the random docks and nettles that were brought in with new soil, we’re using it to grow some veg. Here you can see Smiler has laid out lines for his onions, with some yet to be filled with some of last year’s garlic we still have hanging up.

2016 new grassGrass! As you know from a recent post, we’ve grassed over half of our allotment (sniff) as we’ll hopefully be without a kitchen for a good portion of the harvest season – how’s that for timing! Two weeks ago I sowed a ryegrass/clover mix, and today this happened! First thing in the morning there was nothing, and a good day of sunshine after the rain and we’ve almost an inch of growth – fantastic! We’ll be playing cricket on it in no time 😉

2016 pear blossom Pear blossom – it’s beautiful isn’t it?! What amazes me with pears is that their blossom clumps are huge in comparison to the other fruit types. My fear is that we’ll have a frost or two before they open, killing them off, which is what I think happened last year. The apples tend to come out later, but we seem to have more varieties of plums, pears and cherries that are early starters – bad move possibly, but makes it quite exciting to see if we’ll get any!

2016 chicken dirt bath 22016 chicken dirt bath 1Chickens and their lice baths. Chickens are reasonably good at keeping their lice populations down to manageable levels themselves, if given the right space. Luckily, the bare earth beneath the fruit trees is the perfect location for an impromptu dirt bath, so we sprinkle some food grade diatomaceous earth in the hollow to help the chickens with their task.

2016 walnut bud 2And finally – walnuts! These buds with the pine cone pattern will eventually form the male catkins – I have no idea what the female buds look like yet, but no doubt we’ll get some again this year. In the photograph showing ‘normal’ smooth buds, the white patches beneath the new buds is where the leaves were last year and have since fallen off and healed. I have my suspicions that the larger buds on the end might be flower buds, but we’ll have to wait and see. Now, reading up on walnut trees started to get me a bit worried – walnut trees produce a substance called juglone, which inhibits the growth of other plants, even killing them. Particularly susceptible are apple trees – yikes! Before reaching for eth chainsaw, I 2016 walnut bud 1read a bit more on the subject. Apparently the drip line is worst affected, that is any ground beneath the leaf canopy. Now, we planted Broadview, a compact cultivar, which has a 9m height growth if left unchecked, and a 6m spread, which is only 20ft or thereabouts, which is a 10ft radius around the trunk. Our closest apples trees are around 30ft from the trunk, with their roots ending up with a 10ft distance between themselves and the roots of the Walnut. So I won’t panic just yet – the MM106 apple trees might be dead by the time the walnut reaches mature size, and worst case scenario, we end up with some nice walnut wood!

Potatoes & Onions

2016 potatoes onionsThe last two weekends rotovating, hoeing and digging have paid off, and the weedlings are thin on the ground. The weather has warmed the soil, and I feel safe putting something in without fear of weeds taking over before the seedlings have a chance to break through.

When it comes to potatoes, I know we should put the earlies in, well, early, but it just felt too cold and damp, and we’re in no rush. So today we planted the whole kaboodle, first and second earlies, and the main crops. Mid April, nice and warm, clean soil, perfect!

First earlies were Rocket – we usually go for Swift, but I fancied a change – they have a good disease resistance and whilst we haven’t really suffered from keel worm yet, it can’t be a bad thing 🙂 Second earlies were Charlottes, great for salads which are a staple in the house during the warmer months. We’ve grown them before and had good crops. Main crops were our two favourites – King Edwards for roasting – can’t be beaten, and Valor for a general good all-rounder, a rarity in that it’s a main crop variety that can be mashed without disintegrating. It also has very good blight and eelworm resistance. We had some blight last year, and I can’t help but wonder if the blight trials they’re carrying out two fields to the south-west of us is making it as far as us. If so, it upsets me greatly 🙁

Then on to the onion patch – we’ve again gone for the old favourites – Picasso Red shallots for pickling, Sturon white onions and Karmen red onions, both decent storers (though not as good as the shallots in my experience), and Marco garlic – a new one for us. I’m a bit gutted that we’re late with the garlic, they really should have been in weeks ago, but such is life.

Pickled Onions

Having been sat in the garage for two weeks waiting for their moment in the limelight, time was finally found to do a spot of pickling. These were the Brown pickling SY300 onion seed that we sowed back in March and we were starting to lose some as they turned squidgy.

Basic preparation of the onions – spend an evening in front of the telly peeling and topping and tailing them. Give them a good rinse out in fresh cold water. Then pop them all into a bowl, cover with more fresh cold water and add plenty of sea salt until you can’t dissolve any more into the solution. Cover with something to stop flies/dust/dogs/children getting in and leave overnight. The salt leaches the water from the onions and will make for a crisper onion. The fact that it is sea salt in theory gives a clearer finish to the pickle.

Next day, drain the onions and pat dry to get rid of as much water as possible. As it was my first time I cheated and used ready-spiced pickling vinegar – I washed and popped into a 100 degree oven the jars. Not one for totally cheating, and feeling slightly adventurous, I mixed the pickling vinegar with balsamic vinegar – 2 parts PV to 1 part BV, and then brought the pickling/balsamic vinegar concoction to simmering point. Removed the jars from the oven, popped the onions in tightly and poured the warm vinegar in. The heated contents pulled the pop-up middle of the jar lid down to create a decent seal as it cooled. Job done.

Next time I’ll experiment with my own pickling spice mix, but gently does it 🙂

Digging over the patch

So the promised sun didn’t materialise, but then does it ever? It was still warm enough to don wellies and scoot the barrow over to the new veggie patch in Acre Field (the default name seems to be sticking, how original…). We already have potatoes chitting on a window sill in the house, and have been for about a week now – ready for an Easter Sunday planting session as the old boys always do. You need 6 weeks to allow them to chit properly. Today’s task was to dig over one of the two 30′ square vegetable patches and plant around 100 shallots. Tomorrow’s labour of love is to dig the second 30′ square vegetable patch over and sow parsnip seed – something we should have done a few weeks ago if we’d owned a spare ice axe to dig through the ground.

The digging over of the patch also gave us ample opportunity to rid the area of larger stones, and to de-weed the little blighters that have popped up – mostly chickweed but also some groundsel and wild pansies. Single ones we hoed out, those more prolific we turned over with a spade to bury them as a cheap green manure, as we were advised to do by farmer John.

We’ve got two 30′ rows of shallots, bought from the local allotment society, and planted them 6″ apart, in rows 1′ apart, and placed just below the surface, using the most useful tool I own – a piece of dowling, lovingly hand-crafted, that fulfills the jobs of a spacing ruler, a string holder and a dibber. Each bulb will sprout around 8-10 bulbs which means we’ll be eating a lot of pickled onions!

As is getting the norm each time we dig here, we also unearthed some pottery, what looks like a couple of sherds of Midlands Purple Ware which was made and used between AD1450-1600, and a piece of flint that looks suspiciously like the base of an arrow head – which will make it either Paleolthic or Mesolithic. These are to add to the other 20 pieces we’ve already piled up from this 30′ square piece of land! If only we could find some Anglo Saxon gold 🙂