Category Archives: Vegetables

3 Years On

Orlin Dusk and Monty reducedIt has been almost three years since my last post and rather a lot hasOld Dairy before happened. Things all went a little crazy when we took over a vegetarian café in Carmarthen in November 2014, then had another baby in July 2015 and Dusk had a litter of puppies in December 2015 (of which we kept Monty, who is in the photos). After that we embarked on converting our old barn into a self contained granny Old Dairy duringannex (where my 92 year old gran will move into in June). So it haOld Dairy afters been go go go as always!

We have continued breeding Oxford Sandy & Black Pigs and have now had over 100 born here at Penybanc. We had a little foray into sheep for one year, but we realised that sheep might be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, so even though we did love the sheep and learnt a lot, we had to sell them on.

jack2zwartbles ewes

Spring has rolled around again and everything is blooming, we are busily getting seeds sown and bracing ourselves for all the mowing that is about to kick-off. We had so much going on for the last three years that the veg growing suffered a little, so after being almost completely self-sufficient for veg, we took a little step backwards, but we are hopefully back on track now.

pippa

If you read this, please do leave a post so that I know it is worth while. I will try and do more regular posts from now on.

Orlin and MontyMelinka and Orlin

 

Slug War – Update

Hi Folks,

Quick update on the onslaught of the slimers.

Up until a few days ago the weather was with them and it seemed like we were hardly making a dent.  Most of the fodder beet and a good chunk of onions were dispatched. But as soon as the sun came out and things dried out a bit we have regained our position and things are growing like mad. Huzzah!

I also forgot to mention a couple of points:

– Mulching. Everyone tells you how GREAT and how IMPORTANT it is to mulch whenever you can. ‘Wow, it’s just so ace. It keeps the plants moist, suppresses weeds and fertilises all in one. Get with it man!’. Yes, this may all be true, but none of these benefits are worth diddly if you have no crops because the slugs have eaten them all. Mulches provide a perfect breeding ground for our foe and a nice hiding place during any patrols. I’m now only going to use mulches over winter months I think.

– Sowing direct vs. modules. I’ve often found that sowing directly into the final resting place or even into a seedbed can have distinct advantages over growing in modules and then transplanting, particularly for those hardier crops that can be outside getting all of the sunshine that they can from early in the year. However, this does put them at the mercy of the slimers when they are at their most vulnerable. What was a neat row of carrot seedlings can be turned into a neat row of not very much in one evening. SO… the plan here is to bring up as much as possible in modules, taking full advantage of staging in the polytunnel to get plants to a decent size before moving them out. This is, of course, still pretty tricky with the likes of carrots (due to size, number, root depth etc)… so they’ll just have to take their chances.

– ‘Slugs won’t go for that…’. Don’t believe anything anyone tells you about what slugs will and won’t eat- it’s all lies, damn lies. I’ve heard that they won’t eat alliums, particularly garlic – RUBBISH. I picked at least 15 off my onions and garlic this morning. I’ve heard they don’t like the tiny hairs on squashes… still doesn’t seem to put them off. I’ve not knowingly found anything they won’t go for. Perhaps those in the know can update me?

A new battle in the war… the SLUG WAR!!

In the last week or so we have changed tactics in our long running war against the gastropod molluscs that are determined to end our simple dream of growing enough vegetables for the family. If you live anywhere nearly as slushy as Wales and you have ever tried to grow anything outside you have probably had your own private and, I’m betting, passionate encounter with our slimy friends. Well we have, literally, tonnes of them wandering happily around our land munching through everything they come across and, fairly regularly, that has been our veg patch.

[Warning: For those of you of a squeamish disposition, this may not be the post for you]

In the last year, through a lack of time and understanding and a unprecedented onslaught, we had to resort to the use of slug pellets to protect the more vulnerable of the seedlings. Now, this is like trying to pay off a debt problem by spending more – it might ease the pain in the short term but it’s sure going to come back and bite you later. As we discovered, slug pellets do kill slugs (and snails) very effectively but, come a bit of rain (which it normally does very soon) and the toxic chemicals are washed away into your soil and you are quickly having to replenish them. But this is the least of your worries – worst of all you are indirectly shooting at your own men. All the critters that are on your side, munching up loads of slugs every day, such as the toads and slow worms, are more than likely killed by eating poison-ridden bodies. Needless to say, this makes your challenge all the harder.

So… new tactics were required for this spring. As the seedlings go out, the weather warms and the rains come, an army of slimers is stirring under the grass. The backbone of our approach is to try and restore some sort of sane balance to the predator / prey ratio in the garden and so keep on top of the problem without the use of pellets. Here are the key points in the plan:

– No more pellets unless the crop is covered and it is strictly necessary

– Morning and evening rounds collecting all slugs from in, on and around the veg patch. These fellows are then placed in a covered bucket of water to meet their grisly end. The photo is of ONE morning’s worth of collecting, which gives you an idea of what we’re up against – this is a glamorous life…

– The water from the above is used on the veg patch itself. The high level of parasitic nematodes in the water will add some protection to the soil.

– Comfrey is heaped in small piles near the most sensitive crops. These act as ‘traps’ for the slugs who love to feed on it and hide under it, so can be collected easily.

– Some old copper tube is laid around a few small areas. Slugs are not supposed to like climbing over it. We’ll see!

– Grass edges are kept short and potential hiding and laying spots are kept to a minimum (this included firming down loose ground on the edges of the patch

– In the not too distant future we’re going to dig a duck pond in one corner of the patch. We’re hoping for some khaki campbells, or similar, that make very good slug eaters. These guys can then be let out into the garden to forage as suitable.

– And finally, be prepared to take some collateral damage. We have to be realistic and realise that we’re going to have some significant losses to the slugs and, eventually, they’re going to win the war.

We’ll keep you posted on how it goes – I’m sure you’re desperate to know!

Ahhh! Not courgette again… dealing with the summer glut

Well, we’re at that all-too-brief time of year where we are overrun with fruit and veg. The summer flush is in full swing with courgettes, cabbages and carrots (to name just the C’s) coming out of our ears. And, especially this year with the warm spring, the apples and blackberries are already appearing.

But, we must not complain about the mayhem but try to take advantage of it… and that’s not just through eating as many tomatoes as possible, despite what V would have you believe.

Smallholders and self-sufficientish types make a big deal of food storage, and there’s good reason too. Check back in April and you’ll find out why, as our cupboards are bare and we’re staring forlornly at the tiny seedlings in the garden.

Today at Penybanc we’ve been busy freezing a variety of beans, kale and spinach using a simple technique of blanching and then cooling quickly. Check out this useful site for guidance and blanching timings.

There’s also plenty of bottling, pickling, salting, drying, chutney and jam making to be done so we better get on with it!

Planting Season

So much has been going on that it has been hard to find time to upload a blog (especially as I have never done one before so it is all a bit of a learning experience too), but the kitchen garden taking shape and the first ever planting for us at Penybanc feels like a seminal moment and worthy of a blog entry!

So back when we first saw Penybanc, the kitchen garden was  just a field.

We realised there was no drainage when we tried to plant something and the first hole we dug just filled with water. We should have realised there was a problem by the strip of rushes growing down the middle of the field.

So the first step in turning this field into our kitchen garden was to sort out the drainage. Our neighbour put us in touch with a local farmer who came round with his digger to dig a ditch around two sides of the field. I never thought I would be so excited about a ditch and went to check on it every time it rained. This is it:

Then we measured out and marked out the beds. Later it transpired that our measuring string might have stretched as the diagonals didn’t add up… but thankfully I don’t think that the plants will be too fussy about the exact measurements of their beds.

Then Jules got his rotavator out for the first time. It took about 5 goes over the grass with the rotavator, some digging was required to extract the huge roots of the rushes and then we (with help from Martyn and Rachel) raised the fronts of the beds with recycled plastic in order to stop all our soil washing away down the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last push, double digging the beds and getting them ready for planting was pretty exhausting and left us all with aching muscles. Now the first round of veg is in: parsnips, first early potatoes, carrots, onions, shallots, broad beans and garlic. We’ve protected some of them from frost with a fleece, which I had never heard of before, but I love that my veg needs wrapping up until spring starts in earnest!

Now we need to wait for them to grow…. and the war on weeds and pests is declared!