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. 

Raised beds · Vegetable growing

Harvesting carrots

So carrots this year for us were very much a ‘let’s just chuck some seeds in this empty space and see what happens’ kind of thing. I had some free seeds from a magazine and a bit of a gap from where some of our beetroot seeds hadn’t taken so C and I just threw some in to see what happened. When C is sowing seeds they tend to be rather unevenly sown, try explaining ‘sow thinly’ to a toddler! I wasn’t really expecting any of them to come to much, it was more a bit of fun for C. We have since sown a few carrots into a pot by the side of the house, and a last few into the raised bed. It’s been quite exciting watching the tops emerge and thrive but of course you don’t really get an idea of what the soil is hiding. 

One of the biggest pest risks to carrots is carrot fly. They are attracted to the scent of the carrots apparently (I never really smell carrots but apparently they have a scent which attracts the bugs). So it’s best to try and avoid disturbing the soil until you are pulling them up. When I was pulling them up though I was surprised that there really was a carrot smell. As they were so closely sown (and as I did no thinning whatsoever) there are some very interestingly shaped ones where they haven’t had enough space to really grow, but I still am very proud. I think we’ll just give them a clean and then cook them whole, unpeeled or maybe try them raw with some hummus. 

I think it will be a few more weeks until we can start harvesting our next batch but I think I would definitely plant a few more carrots next year. I don’t think we would ever manage to grow enough to be self sufficient in them (we do go through a lot) but we could certainly have a few little tasters during the year. Not bad for a packet of free seeds really (Grow your own magazine, Autumn King 2 variety for anyone who’s interested) and we still have plenty of seeds left for next year. 

Life in the Countryside

Saving money

So here at cottagegardentrio, we tend to do lots of things which save us money but it occurred to me the other day that we have no real way of measuring this. Yes our food shops might be smaller sometimes or our electricity bill slightly lower, but I have no real way of seeing how much of an impact what we do has. I know some gardeners will often weigh all of their produce and try to price up what it would cost in the supermarket, but I don’t feel like I have the time for this really in amongst everything else I want to do (I tried this and spent ages looking for exciting potato types at Waitrose before giving up). So instead I’ve decided on a different approach. Every time I make or use something which I would have otherwise spent money on, I’m going to transfer £1 from our current account into a specially created savings account. Whilst some of the things we do (like drying our washing on the line instead of the tumble dryer) won’t have saved us £1, some other things we do would have saved us infinitely more (how on earth do you put a value on 12 jars of organic, high fruit, plum and rum jam?) So a set value of £1 makes it much easier to manage. I don’t know how long I’ll manage to keep it up, or if the end of summer is really the time to be starting this when most things have already been harvested, but I really fancy trying it for a spell to see. 

So far my list of things I think we do include:

  • Collecting eggs from the girls
  • Growing vegetables in the raised beds
  • Collecting fruit from the trees and hedges
  • Making jams and chutneys
  • Baking cakes instead of buying them
  • Sewing and knitting some clothes/gifts/household items
  • Using a washing line instead of a tumble dryer
  • Eat in/have friends over instead of going out (we do still eat out way too much, but we keep making efforts to reduce this)
  • Shopping around online for bargains (I’m including this as it’s amazing how much you can save sometimes)

I’m sure there may be more but that’s all I can think of now. My big struggle is whether to put money in when I harvest goods, or when I use them? And do I put money in for when we collect eggs everyday? I’m going to put any money saved towards our trip away for our five year anniversary next year (as yet unplanned though we’ve had lots of ideas). Does anyone else do anything similar to keep track of money saved? Any better ways to do it? How much money have people actually found making small changes can save?

Raised beds

Raised beds

Before moving into the cottage we had grown very little; we managed to kill the orchid and herbs we had in our first flat and had grown tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets in our three bed semi (although I doubt their success had much to do with anything we did, more they seemed to thrive on our neglect). However, we are both really keen to try and grow some edibles in the cottage garden. So the first job has been to create a vegetable patch. We’ve opted for raised beds for many reasons. I have a hip problem which is under control in the short term but will inevitably lead to a hip replacement and so having raised beds should make gardening a bit easier for me and enable me to keep gardening for as long as possible. Raised beds keep the soil warmer so you are usually able to plant things earlier and crops are protected from a late frost. Although I think for J the deciding factor was that Monty Don uses them, ergo raised beds are the only way to garden.

Now a simple Google search brings up hundreds of images of raised beds, all different and all with their own pros and cons. We are aiming to stay in the cottage for life so we want something which is durable and ideally that we won’t have to replace, repair or repaint frequently if at all. We also want something which is going to blend in and look natural in our garden. So after much research J has designed our raised beds. Each bed is made from 6 railway sleepers. Each bed is two sleepers high, one sleeper long and half a sleeper wide. All held together with some ginormous screws. Each bed was constructed on top of a ‘base’ of chicken wire (to prevent moles as we’ve had a couple of those tell tale mounds on the lawn before) and then a fine membrane to keep weeds out and let water through. Then each bed was lined with a waterproof membrane which has two purposes; firstly to prevent any treatment from on the sleepers from seeping into the soil and tainting the soil and veg, and secondly to lengthen the life of the sleepers by keeping them from being rotten by the soil. Finally, at each corner and in the middle on each side are some ingenious plastic clasps which will hold hoops of pipe over which netting can be hung, thus keeping the birds away from our crops.

Each bed is filled as follows: on the bottom 15 bags of gravel (each weighing 20kg), then topped with about half a tonnes of top soil, followed by six 20kg bags of horticultural grit topped with seven 100 litre bags of compost. We made sure that the grit was well mixed with the soil and compost. Hopefully this will ensure decent drainage and a good balance of texture and nutrients. So far we have all six built and most are lined ( although when I see we I should really say J as he has been responsible for the building process) and are about halfway through filling them (my contribution to the endeavour). C and I planted up the first one with two rows of beetroot and two of turnip. I had planned to sow my rows at two weekly intervals but I forgot so we will inevitably end up with a glut later in the year but I will work out how to deal with that later! I’ve sowed the seeds quite closely, mainly as I’m sure not that not many will take and so this will at least ensure I get something grow. The turnip seeds have started to sprout (see picture below) but no sign of any beetroot.

imageEventually we may expand the number of raised beds as we look towards retirement, which is unfortunately a long way off yet, and as the climbing frame becomes redundant. But for now six beds seems to fit just right. I’m planning to plant another bed up this weekend with cauliflower and a pumpkin in the end just for fun.  I do need to get round to filling the others soon but the thought of moving more bags of anything has my back and arms crying out in protest!