Tag Archives: Vegetables

All stuff about veg

‘Green’ eggs and ham?

So the Swedes have done something that us Penybanc’ers have long been talking about… putting a ‘climate label’ on produce in the supermarket.

We already have the traffic light labels to tell us what danger we’re in from that high percentage of fat in our butter and “how useful that is!” I hear you cry. Perhaps it is useful sometimes – I can’t say I’ve ever found it so. Now what is more difficult to know about your food and what I hope at least some people care about is the environmental impact of the produce that you are buying… we resort to looking at the country of origin, try to buy seasonally, buy locally etc. but this is not always the best approach. For example tomatoes grown in this country may have demanded significantly more energy through being grown in a heated and artificially lit greenhouse or stored in inert gas chambers for months rather than being flown over from southern Europe.

So the Swedes are trying out a labelling method which aims to clarify this a little. The idea, as I understand it, is that each foodstuff (eg. Tomatoes) has a reference (I guess the average?) climate impact and a particular product’s position relative to that average is calculated. So if you are a tomato that has been grown in a significantly (25%) more environmentally friendly manner than the reference product then you will get a gold star (or whatever). This, theoretically, takes into account everything that it took to get the food to the market – cultivation, harvesting, transportation and packaging. Of course no climate labelling scheme can be exhaustive or 100% accurate, but this seems like a pretty good effort (Tell me more)

I, for one, will be interested to see how it goes and perhaps one day we might do something similar over here.

Ed: Incidentally the Swedes also did, in my opinion, a better method of the ‘health rating’ labelling using a keyhole symbol. Read more here.

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!

Trials and Tribulations of a Smallholder

Don’t worry, things aren’t as dire as the title of this post makes out. I just thought that my worries in life have changed somewhat since becoming a smallholder and it might be interesting to others…. although I will let you be the judge of that!

We have been watching our sow, Barbara, very carefully as, soon, we hope to start breeding from her. She has an absolutely lovely temperament and luckily it seems to be very easy to spot when she is on heat. She gave us a real scare a few days ago when we went to feed her and couldn’t find her. We found her sleeping behind some brambles, but we couldn’t get her to her feet, she wasn’t interested in food and was shivering. We worked out what had happened in the end; as she has lots of shade in her run and it only being March, we did not think it was crucial to give her a mud wallow. As it was very sunny, I sprayed her ears with sunscreen and I thought she would be ok but I didn’t anticipate that she would sunbathe all day and burn her stomach. She then must have been too hot to bother going to bed, so she slept outside and the temperature dropped very low at night, so she probably had a bit of a chill in the morning. Thankfully, another warm day and, this time, a lovely mud wallow saw her right as rain again (even if her tummy is still a little pink) and she was chowing down on her food like normal by the evening. Phew!

Incubating fertilised eggs has not been as straightforward as the first time round. We desperately want to keep Australorp chickens and after lots of searching for breeders, we finally managed to buy half a dozen hatching Australorp eggs. We were super excited after 21 days in the incubator waiting to see our new chicks, but sadly nothing hatched and it turned out the eggs were not fertile. Luckily the lady who sold us the eggs was nice enough to send a second batch and she threw in a couple of extra eggs of some Maran/Australorp crosses. Everything was going swimingly until disaster struck and a fuse tripped just after we checked up on the incubator for the night, so it was switched off over night and must have got quite cold. Now we doubt we will have any chicks after over 6 weeks of trying, but we’ve left the eggs in the incubator just in case….. doubtful and very sad. Third time lucky?

The saddest thing that has happened is that farmer who owns the field on the other side of our stream decided to clear some trees from his side of the bank. We were a little worried when we saw diggers and dumper trucks so we went to have a look. The contractor assured us all he would do was remove trees from the other side and a couple that had fallen across the stream and he got the farmer to come round and reassure us. The noise of the machinery went on for 2 weeks, 7 days a week starting at 7 in the morning every day, even on Sundays. When we saw what the farmer had done we were totally distraught. Far from just removing a few trees, the farmer had removed all the trees from his side, excavated the banks, straightened the stream and basically turned it into a ditch. He had uncovered horrible concrete that he laid previously and even cut the trees on our side of the stream that were in any way leaning over the stream. When we confronted him he said this had to be done to prevent “bank erosion”. Surely tree roots are the natural way to prevent bank erosion. The worst part is that we used to have otters in this stream and there is little hope they will return with the current state of it.








Our chickens have caused us some anxiety too. Allowing them to free range entirely is very romantic and it is lovely watching the chickens investigating the woodpile, the hedges and wandering down the drive, but the downsides are a front door step covered in chicken poo, endlessly searching for their eggs and the seed from the bird table being gobbled up by the cockerel. All this was worth bearing as they didn’t seem to have any interest in the kitchen garden, but then, just as our first asparagus heads started to peep through, the chickens moved in and ate every single one and washed their gourmet main course down with a rhubarb dessert! So the chickens have now had their wings clipped and are confined to the orchard.  We are keeping them behind electric fence part of the time as we are worried that they are more vulnerable to foxes up behind the house.

Other worries on the animal front are that our geese have not yet laid a single egg and our cow is very rambunctious, head-butting, kicking and acting mule-like when you try and lead her out to the field.

Of course, our life is not all worries and dramas! These are mostly fairly minor worries with easy solutions but I thought they helped demonstrate how different our priorities have become since living in the city. It being spring and having had some unseasonally warm weather, things are buzzing and happy at Penybanc. The bees are busy and now have a honey super on their hive ready for filling, the birds are singing loudly and are building their nests, the daffodils have been and now the tulips are out in force, we have a new polytunnel which we’re about to fill with yummy things, yesterday we went on a vegetable sowing mission from dawn until dusk and we were fuelled by our own sausages and bacon. Happy Days!

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!