Life in the Countryside · Raised beds · Recreation area · Vegetable growing

Cutting the asparagus back

So our asparagus crowns went in in April and for the first year you are supposed to not harvest them at all and let the foliage grow wild so that the crowns can really develop and establish. It was lovely to see the spears appear from the ground but as they grew into foliage the bed looked a bit messy.


So when it comes to Autumn and the foliage starts to turn brown and die back you can cut the stems back to about one inch above the ground and them mulch the bed. 


The bed now looks so much neater and hopefully we will have a good crop next year. One of the crowns does look a little weaker than the others but fingers crossed it will still produce well. It may seem a pain to have to not harvest it in the first year, but as crowns can typically last for 20 years, leaving one years worth of harvest in order to have 20 years of excellent harvest seems a small sacrifice to make. Hopefully it will pay off next year. 

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chickens · Life in the Countryside · The field

Moving the chickens

So after we had the hedges and the grass all cut back recently we decided to move the chickens out of the orchard and into the field. There were a couple of reasons behind this. Firstly the grass in the orchard needs some time to recover from the girls pecking at it and creating dust baths so we’re going to reseed it and give it a bit of tlc. Secondly, it was a right pain trying to mow around the chicken pen as there wasn’t really enough space to move the electric fence easily so you had to mow a bit, then move it, then mow a bit then move it etc. If they are in the field then we can just mow half the field, move them permanently and then mow the rest. Thirdly, we were actually missing having the orchard as a place to spend time in. We really liked the orchard and had a couple of barbecues there last summer and wanted to get back to it being more of a social area to spend time in as a family. So our plan was simple, move their Eglu and then remove the fence and herd them into the field. We figured that the chickens would follow their home as it moved. By gosh we were wrong. So first we moved the Eglu, the chickens were mildly interested in what we were doing but mainly focused on pecking at the area where the Eglu had once stood. C and I tried to bribe them to come out of the gate in their fence using meal worms. No luck. So we started taking down the fence, again they showed a mild interest in what we were doing but then just decided to explore the rest of the orchard. 


So my father in law began to mow the orchard to even up the grass where the fence had been removed. Admittedly they did move away from the mower, but only a little bit and still stayed determinedly in the orchard. By now they were getting a bit more confident and were exploring the full reach of the orchard, but still stopping short when it came to moving towards the field. Now we had kept Jessie inside whilst we did this as we thought she’d be a bit of a hindrance (I did want to keep C away too as she was equally a hindrance but you can’t really lock a toddler in a cage) but we then thought we could use her to help encourage the chickens into the field. She has only seen the chickens from behind the electric fence before and so we figured she would relish the idea of chasing them. If only we could manage to get her to chase them in the right direction. The result…she had a mild interest in the chickens but was more interested in exploring the orchard. We tried leaving them in the hope they would go by themselves but we were worried about them not managing to get home before it got dark and we know there are foxes about (hence the electric fence). Eventually we used all of our resources (me, my husband, my father in law, the dog and some netting) to try to trap one or two at a time so we could then carry them to the field. I don’t have any photos of this because I didn’t have a free hand to take photos! We managed to get five up there but Dorothy (remember her, the elusive let’s hide our eggs chicken) decided to hide in the hedge between the orchard and the field (which she couldn’t get through because of the fence). We ended up leaving her and coming back a couple of times and we eventually managed to pick her up and get her there but it was hard work. This is their new home in the field.


They seem to have settled in quite nicely. Once they’ve been there for a couple of weeks then we’ll give them the chance to free range even further into the field. 

Vegetable growing

Earthing the Christmas tatties

So back at the end of August C and I planted our Christmas potatoes and a couple of weeks ago they were ready to be earthed up. Earthing up basically means putting soil (compost ideally) on top of the foliage that has sprouted from the potatoes. You can completely cover it and it will keep growing through the new soil. Earthing up can be done more than once as well. Why earth up potatoes? Simply, to increase the yield. The more depth of soil, the more space for potatoes to grow. 


So basically once the potato foliage has grown to about 15cm then cover them with earth just up to the top of the foliage. Then once they’ve grown to the same height again then repeat. I would probably only earth up twice to then give the chance for the foliage to develop and enable it to concentrate on fattening up those tubers. If you have your potatoes in bags like me (which ideally all potatoes grown at the time of year should be) then you can earth up to the top of the bag. Remember though that bags are pretty hard to move when full so try to get them in their final position (a greenhouse or conservatory by mid October) before earthing up. 


Mine can probably have a tiny bit more earth in but not much really. Next thing to watch out for potato-wise is the flowers…hoping they appear by about mid October. Does anyone else grow Christmas potatoes? How are they getting on?

Life in the Countryside · Raised beds

Preparing the raised beds for the winter

So although I have debated about whether to plant more things in the raised beds to try and grow them over winter, I have decided not to and to leave them empty and ready for Spring. Now there are three reasons for this. Firstly I’m looking forward to a bit of a rest from the gardening over the winter, not that there won’t be things to do but there certainly won’t be as many. Secondly, I want to make sure that I can start my planting for the summer as early as possible and don’t want to have to wait for other crops to come out. And thirdly, and possibly most importantly, I’m not a big fan of many of the crops that you can put in at this time of year. So I’ve decided to leave some of the raised beds empty for the summer. I will try to do something to build up the nutrients in the soil possible, but otherwise they will be empty. The asparagus and strawberries stay in their beds (read how they’ve been prepared for winter in a forthcoming post or two) but the pumpkin bed is currently empty as is the bed which had housed baby corn and broad beans. The other two beds should be mostly empty shortly apart from my experimental leeks which will be there through winter. But for now I’ll start with two beds. 


So the beds have been emptied of any plant matter including as many roots as I could pull up. I then forked them over using a hand fork so that the soil was loose. I also ensured that any weeds were removed, especially important that the roots of these are removed as well. I have decided to add some more compost in the Spring as part of my bed preparation so for now I just want to prevent any weeds growing. So what I’ve done is covered the bed with cardboard and weighted it down with left over bags of compost/grit/manure/anything lying around. Hopefully that means that at least some of the weeds are kept from appearing and it should rot down enough just to be dug into the soil in the Spring. At least that’s what I’m hoping, I guess time will tell if I’ve done enough to keep the weeds at bay. What does anyone else do to prepare their garden for the winter?

Craft · Parenting

Matching beach bags

It’s sad I know but I’ve been so excited about making C and I matching things. I know it’s ridiculous but I also know that there will only be a small window of time where she will actually let me have a say in what she wears or has. And I plan on taking full advantage of that window of time. Earlier this week I made myself a beach bag from some beach fat quarters I had for ages and wanted to use up (if I use up fabrics from my stash that means that I can buy more fabrics right?) So after washing and ironing the fabrics the other week (always an essential part of sewing preparation) I started to come up with a basic patchwork design. I cut out 4 inch squares and pieced them together until I had something which I liked the look of and seemed the right kind of size (very technical) which ended up being 5 squares by 4 squares and then sewed them together. I then added wadding and a plain blue backing for each side and the sewed them together incorporating some simple cotton handles that I happened to have left over (goodness knows from where). 



Not very exciting I know but perfect for keeping in the caravan to take on holiday and take to the beach or for a walk in the town. It will wash as well which makes it perfect for a casual holiday bag. Now when I brought it into the house from the cabin for the requisit praise from the hubby, C saw it and immediately wanted one. I hadn’t planned on making her one but jumped at the chance to create another matching item. I tried to get her involved in the process (as much as you can with an almost three year old) and so once I had cut out the squares I got her to arrange them. She loved helping to “design” her bag. I went for a 3×3 design for hers and had to make straps out of fabric as I didn’t have anymore to hand. I’ve attached her straps to the inside rather than having them in the seam as I feel I may need to change them at some point, either totally or adjusting the length so it’s easier if they are accessible. And the result….


…she loves it! And I do as well, they are similar with the same fabric and process but different enough so that they’re not to twee. Hopefully. Or at least I think so. What does everyone else think about matching parents and children?

Raised beds · Vegetable growing

The death of the broad beans

Our broad beans were grown from plants bought from the garden centre to fill a gap as we were rather late in getting the raised beds finished. So I wasn’t too precious about them really. We had a few the other week but most of them weren’t ready before we went on holiday. Unfortunately, by the time we had come back from holiday they had been hit by what is known as rust. I did open some pods to check if the beans were alright but they weren’t, they were a write off. So we’ve had to dig them up and bin them (bin rather than compost for any diseased plants in our house). Not exactly what we would have hoped for but nevermind. Next year they will hopefully be in the field and will get more of the attention that they need. 

Dog

Puppy update: managing a puppy whilst working

So I realised the other day that I have been putting pictures up on Instagram about Jessie but haven’t done an update on life with her for a while. Jessie is now 14 weeks old and has grown so much since we first got her. She is now allowed outside to interact with other dogs as she’s had her final set of injections (for now, I think she needs a booster at about a year old). J has found a lovely route to walk with her from our house, just up the round and onto a bridleway where she can be let off the lead. So far she is really good at coming back on command and doesn’t stray too far from us. We still put her back on the lead when we pass horses but she has shown a restrained curiosity about them so far. We’ve also taken her up to Westonbirt Arboretum which is great for both children and dogs as they have a huge section where dogs are allowed and have dog bowls and bins at various places as well as a cafe, shop and good toilets and changing facilities for children. We’re planning her first beach visit in a couple of weekends time which I’m sure she will love. 

 

She’s dropped down to two meals a day now, by her own volition really as she wasn’t eating her meals properly when she was on three so we switched her to two and increased the amount at each and now she eats everything up straight away. We made sure to keep offering her a good number of treats in the transition from 3 to 2 so she didn’t end up hungry. And we’re still soaking her last meal of the day for about half an hour before dinner, on advice from the vet, so that she doesn’t need to have water available in the night and it helps keep her fuller for longer (apparently). We’ll probably keep doing this until she is six months old. Though we have had the occasional upset food bowl when she brings a toy out with her to breakfast time! Thankfully she cleaned up after herself. 

The big transition has been after the summer holidays I’m now back at work so she’s had to spend some more time by herself during the day. My father in law very kindly volunteered (was asked to volunteer) to help out with the pup up until October half term during the day. I think he has actually enjoyed it and has often had Jessie over at his for the whole day instead of popping over to ours for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. It’s been really helpful especially when J has to go to work early and his dad has been able to do the morning walk. Long term it isn’t reasonable for us to expect him to look after Jessie everyday and so we’ve looked at some other options. A dog walker would cost up to £10 a day for the four full days that I work, if we presume that I walk her on my halfday. So as I work in a school I work for 39 weeks a year, so in one year we would end up spending £1560! And that’s presuming I can find someone who is willing to only work termtime. That’s a pretty insane cost when you think about it especially as walking the dog is one of the things we wanted to get a dog for. Even getting someone to come in daily for a comfort break would probably be about £5 a day. And both of those options would still mean that she was spending most of her day in a cage. So we’re looking into getting a kennel and run for the garden. So she would be in there whilst we’re at work and will have space to run around and space to do her business and hopefully won’t get bored. It will cost a bit I think, but will be much cheaper than having a dog walker in the long run. What does everyone else do about managing a dog and working? Are there any better options? I mean I can’t be the only one to work and have a dog. 

Fruit growing

Green tomatoes

So my hanging baskets have been looking pretty sorry for themselves for a while. I tried reviving them but now the weather has started cooling (how can it possibly be Autumn already?) there is not as much of the heat and sunlight that they require to ripen well. So I decided to cut my losses and pick the remaining tomatoes. The hanging baskets were starting to look rather unattractive and so they are better off down and out the way emptied and ready to use next year. 

As you can see we still have a significant number of unripened tomatoes. So what do you do with them? Well I have removed them and brought them inside to sit on a warm sunny windowsill. Here we should get some more of them ripening and reaching that lovely deep red colour that indicates a lovely sweetness. In fact most of the tomatoes I’ve picked this year I’ve put on the windowsill for a day or so to get that last bit of ripening. 


Any that remain green can become a green tomato chutney, which is a winter favourite of mine with cheese. 

Craft

Dolls bedding: how to guide

So a little while ago I made C’s baby a changing bag and accessories. She loved it and I had some of the fabric I used left over so had been planning on making something else with it for her but it had languished about in a box crumpled up for months (that may have partly been as I didn’t yet have a sewing room, but now I have the cabin so no excuse). Her doll has a bed from IKEA that I picked up for her on a rather disasterous trip there whilst looking at storage (I would never recommend anyone take their toddler there if they are actually planning to shop rather than chase a toddler). It’s a lovely looking wooden bed that was remarkably cheap (can’t actually remember the price) and C loves it. We had got it for her at about the same time as we were going to convert her cot to a bed so thought it was a really good thing to link to the idea of a big girls bed. Anyway, so although the dolls bed came with bedding it was rather thin and cheap looking. So I decided to make some nicer bedding for it. 


I didn’t have quite as much of the elephant fabric as I would have hoped so the dolls quilt had to be adapted somewhat from my original plan but I’m rather pleased with it. I’ve included some simple instructions below for what I did in case anyone fancies trying out a similar project.

Dolls Bedding how to guide

First measure the length and width of the inside of your dolls bed (this is where the mattress would sit).

Materials

  • Mattress: 2 pieces of length add 1/2 inch x width add 1/2 inch; one piece of wadding the same size
  • Pillow: 2 pieces of length x 5 inches; toy stuffing to fill
  • Quilt: 2 pieces of length add one inch x width add 4 inches; one piece of wadding the same size

You can choose to have the same materials for the mattress and the pillow (as I have) or different for all three. I had planned to have the top of the quilt in the dark elephant fabric and the bottom in the pale elephant fabric but ended up having to adapt and sew some squares together to get the required size. My instructions below are for one piece of material on the front and one on the back. All fabric should be prewashed, pressed and cut to size. Seam allowance throughout is 1/4 inch. 

Instructions

  1. Mattress: place the two pieces of fabric right sides together and lay the wadding on top. Sew around all four sides leaving a gap of about 3 inches on one side. Snip a triangle off at the corners and turn the right way out through the gape left in the same. Press well with a hot iron so that the wadding becomes firmer and more mattress like. Then hand stitch the gap in the seam closed. 


2. The pillow: put the two fabric pieces right side together and sew around all four sides leaving a gap of 3 inches. Snip the corners then turn the right way out through the gap in the seam and then press. Next begin stuffing, making sure to push the stuffing right into the corners (a chopstick can help with this), keep squishing it to ensure an even fill. Once filled so you are happy with it, handsew the gap in the seam closed. 

3. The quilt: now you could try to be quite fancy here and do a patchwork design or appliqué a picture on it, but my guide is for a simple plain quilt. Put your two pieces of fabric right sides together and then lay the wadding on top (I try to used the thickest wadding I have here). Sew around all four sides leaving a gap of about three inches for turning. Snip the corners and then turn right side out. Do not press here as you want your wadding nice and fluffy. Hand stitch the gap in the seam. You could do some quilting stitch here if you want but I haven’t. 


So there you go. Fairly simple, all you need to be able to do is to sew in a straight line, you could even hand stitch the whole thing if you want but it would take a lot longer. If using a machine then this is an easy project to complete in an evening. Next step is some clothes for her doll I think, maybe even matching. Has anyone else sewn anything exciting for children?

Raised beds · Vegetable growing

When to pick a pumpkin

Now as I’m sure I’ve said before, pumpkins were very much a novelty item for us. J doesn’t really like them, neither does C (I think, I haven’t really tried her with them since she was weaning) but I do like pumpkin soup as a nice winter warmer. But I had some seeds free from a magazine so I’d planted two next to each other and then once the seedlings had appeared removed the weaker seedling. The pumpkins had been planted in a raised bed with the cauliflowers (naively I had thought the cauliflowers would be out by the time the pumpkin got to any size, how wrong that was). We’ve had moments when they started to invade the rest of the garden and had to be cut back. 


I ended up cutting it back to leave us with a total of two good pumpkins. It has been quite fascinating to watch not only as they grew in size but also slowly changed in colour.




So you can see they have grown quite a bit and slowly changed colour as they’ve ripened. So after a little bit of research about when to pick them (tap them and a hollow sound is a good indication) as the vine was starting to die back by itself I decided to bite the bullet and cut them. 


You can see that the stem has already started to darken to the traditional look that you see in shops. So now we are going to leave them for a few weeks to finish the hardening. Apparently if stored in a cool and dry place they can last for a good six months so even though they have been picked now they should still be good until Halloween when we can try our first carving! Now I have about a month to find some good pumpkin recipes. Any suggestions?