Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Growing Pains

So - we have had a season's growing here at the croft and it is time for a review.  What has worked - what hasn't - what will we do again and what will we do differently?
We had high hopes at the very beginning of the year with our seaweed collecting and compost heap building, as well as having three of our neighbour's pigs helping us out with some land clearance.  Despite such a promising start, however, we lost most of the Spring, due to the house sale and move, and John's back injury, during March and April; and the twenty nine days of torrential rain and winds we had during May.  Most of the sowing and planting was done in between the peat digging in early June.

Nevertheless, we have had reasonable success. We have had salads all through the summer - the pea and chard crop has been wonderful, and we are just starting to enjoy the first of the broad beans.  Fennel, kale and celeriac are looking promising, and my first attempt at forcing chicons might just happen this year.  The tomatoes - well they may ripen - or they may not.  We were very late in planting these - and had to choose from the last few stragglers available in the garden centre.  The lack of a greenhouse hampered tomato progress somewhat too.

 One thing I remembered from the heavy snows last Winter was the lack of green stuff available in the garden and in the shops.  With that in mind, I planted up several rows of hardy lettuce, greens, prickly seeded spinach and broccoli rabe. Along with the kale and chard, we should have a reasonable supply for the next season.  You may also notice the abundance of chickweed  happily growing away all over the place too, so we will include that in our winter harvest.

All in all, the growing shed system has been a good thing, and it has allowed us to put some home grown produce on our table in this first short season - and that is an important part of the plan for us.

Now, what hasn't gone so well?  Remember all those potatoes?  All 40kg of them?  They all rotted in the field during our Monsoon May.  We just hashed in getting these tatties in the ground as soon as we arrived - not waiting for the drainage to be sorted out (it still isn't done yet, by the way).   This was part of the ground that the pigs were on, and just look at it.  Ah well, a big lesson learned.

Likewise with the carrots and onion sets, which were planted side by side in this plot.

All may not be quite lost here, as there are signs of carroty growth under the weed cover.  I will leave it until October and see if they fatten up a bit.  I have to add here that I did use very cheap seed, bought from a bargain store, but I don't think that was the reason for the failure.  The main reason for this and the potato
no-show was that we had poor drainage and hadn't prepared the ground properly.  This field had not been grown on for many years, and apart from putting pigs on it for a couple of months, we did nothing else to it before we planted.
I am not beating myself up over this though.  It was never going to be as productive as my last garden, where the fertility had been built up over 10 years - certainly not after 6 months. And anyway, I have cut back a lot on carbs - so at least I don't have to deal with all those potatoes ;-)

So, what next?  Well, the growing shed will not be such an easy option next year, as the sheep, cows and hens will be sharing the field.  We will, of course, be using the strip grazing technique, so the animals can be kept out easily enough, but those hens...  And we have decided to re-roof the shed anyway - probably using it again as a lambing shed.
A big down point for me was that the croft land is a fair walk  from the house, a few fields away. As our working roles have developed, I found I was spending more time at the house than down at the croft, so popping out for a basket of peas, weeding the onion bed, or watering the tomatoes could be a bit of a logistical operation. James didn't want to spend all his time at the croft either - he liked to be at home or out in the garden, and John found much of his time taken up with the livestock and building repairs. As we go on, and James get older, this will change, but for now that is how it is, so we need to incorporate these outcomes and needs into our planning.
 I want to grow enough to feed us with fresh produce and to have enough surplus to preserve for year round use, and it needs to be accessible, or it will not work.  We will be working on the fertility and quality of the croft land to grow larger crops of carrots and root veg, and will be putting up a sizeable polytunnel, but what we really need for the next growing season is a kitchen garden.

And this will be it - at the front of the house.  It is not a great photograph, and it is hard to show the extent of the land, which goes well out to the side there - probably about 1/4 of an acre. it is mostly grass, with a few stands of willow here and there.  There are some ancient gooseberries and blackcurrants that have had their day, so will be replaced, and there are one or two herbaceous plants which we will move.  I envisage several vegetable beds taking up all that grassy area, ornamental borders on three sides of the plot, some woodland planting  where the willows are, and a fruit plot at the far edge.  Ooh - can't you just see it now?  I need to fit in a small greenhouse somewhere, but there is plenty space around the side of the house - oh - and a storehouse/ root  cellar type structure too...
I am sooo excited by this plan. Now I need to walk the talk, as they say.

I am getting some specialised help with starting this off, though.  Our very own pigs will be arriving in a few weeks, and they will have their first living quarters on the front lawn!

So - that's the plan - now where are those seed catalogues?


  1. I so know the feeling of a good walk away from your crops, and children being unwilling. Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of a space at home, but your plans sound perfect.

    Your own pigs :). What breed are you getting? I love the idea of pigs, but would find it so hard to go through the whole process, if you know what I mean.

    Sorry to hear about the spuds. That was a lot of hard work you put in there too. But lessons learned, there's always next year!!

  2. my boys and i talk about having this sort of space and how we would use it. Pigs often come up in the conversation. I can't wait to see how your plans come together... and those lovely piggies!!

  3. This all sounds wonderful to me, and I like how you way up your successes with those that haven't so successful and why. And you plans for your new growing area close to the house sounds fabulous.

  4. I had forgotten about all those potatoes! I was just reminiscing about my grandmother's kitchen gardens.
    I would have been truly overwhelmed, so I think you did smashing for the first season there!
    meggs. xx

  5. I really enjoyed this post. We have had very similar successes and lessons this year in the garden--especially the one about accessibility. If the garden is more than a few steps from the door, it just doesn't get the attention from us that it needs to thrive. We had poor carrot and potato crops, too, and have similar issues with wet soil. Lots of lovely greens, though! I appreciate your perspective in terms of accepting the present circumstances and working within them. And I love your plan for the kitchen garden out front--can't wait to see the transformation!

  6. your kitchen garden plan sounds SO exciting, and I can completely understand that it does have to be right outside the door or it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. A few years ago I tried Hugh FW's hint that the pot should already be boiling in the kitchen when you go out to pick heads of sweetcorn - it was the most delicious thing I've ever grown, and reason enough to have a kitchen garden right outside the house!

  7. The kitchen garden sounds wonderful, such a large space too, you certainly have plenty of work ahead of you, but exciting when you see your plans coming together..........on a much smaller scale I tried growing tomatoes this year, for the first time in my little back yard......I have loads and they're a lovely size, but only one has ripened......looks like everyone on my christmas list will be getting a jar of green tomato chutney this year.......I think I may have planted them a little late. Sorry about your potatoes, but we live and learn I suppose. xx

  8. Cant wait to see your pigs. My tomatoes have not ripened well this year. Looking forward to seeing the progress of your kitchen garden x

  9. Great post

    We are always looking back at what works and what doesn't too. I love the fact you are going to use your front garden we put raised beds in ours a few yrs back and doubled our space .

    Cant wait to see your pigs, i am hankering for some oxford sandy and blacks myself .......................just a bit short of land :)

  10. That kitchen garden is the way to go, and from the sound of the old bushes, was there before!

  11. I think you all did remarkably well for a first year garden, in a challenging environment. And against that rain in May to boot! Pity about the Pots & Carrots, though next year will no doubt be better. The Pigs will sort out the kitchen garden area for you, no problem. But those pesky Hens.....well, there's no answer there, I fear. Curiosity may kill cats but it does nothing to Hens. Best.

  12. Growing your own is always a learning opportunity, especially when it's new ground. It's great to reflect on what worked and what didn't and then the best part is planning what comes next.

    Enjoy your planning and seed browsing x
    Oh and pigs ... wonderful!

  13. I love seed catalogs, Duncan says it looks and sounds like I am reading something much for salacious, judging by the animated face and oohs and ahs lol. We have done very little this year what with moving twice, I desperately wanted my own pumpkins and squash this year, but there is always next year I guess.

  14. Your plans sound great. My growing year has not been great, mainly due to the poor weather during the growing season, ah well!
    Much love.

  15. great blog! my growing season hasn't been so good and I put it down to the fact that it is my first year.... but perhaps the weather has played a bigger part than I thought. looking forward to hearing all about the progress of your kitchen garden. pig? lovely. lucky you to be able to live somewhere where you can have them x

  16. What an interesting post. I like hearing your thoughts and analysis, and how you've sorted out what's reasonable to expect, what's not worth worrying about. Your kitchen garden is going to be great. Will the willows help as a wind shelter?

  17. You've got such exciting plans! I'm doing a similar thing at the moment, my veg plot was a bit of a disaster this year due to compacted soil which never got properly dug over because the silt soil was like concrete with no rain and the wind just knocked the plants for six as it came across the fens. I have big plans for some raised beds for next year, but as you said, I am going to put them nearer the caravan as this will make gardening with a small baby much easier! Conor put a rain butt up for me a couple of days ago, next to the greenhouse and I can't tell you how excited I was this morning to find it full, so no more walking long distances to the yard and back with heavy watering cans for me!! It's amazing how little alterations like that make all the difference! Looking forward to seeing how your plans progress. By the way, did you get any further with your bees?


  18. I hope you are feeling really proud of what you have achieved, I think your amazing! Good luck with futer plans, no matter what size you develope and learn every season.

  19. Looking at your new garden area makes me excited -- like a painter looking at a blank canvas, or a writer looking at a clean page. Who needs all that grass on the lawn? Plant veggies!

  20. Your plans sound very good. We plan to move the veg plot we've inherited to within view of the house, as both it and the hen house are round the corner in a shady, weedy plot. I plan to build raised beds in front of the house (the existing ground is stony, flinty and not great and as we've got a barn full of nearly rotted horse manure, raised beds seems the easiest options.

    It's been too rainy here to sit outside in the morning - I envy you that!

  21. Sara is studying horticulture at college for two years, so she has already ordered next years seed catalogue!!

    How did you manage to keep your chard pest free? The blooming slugs and snails got at ours and then the roots went rotten.

    The front view of your house is just beautiful.

    Hugs San xx

  22. Thanks all once again. it seems the weather has hit us all this year. I did think the summer, once it started was a good one, but maybe my expectations were lower.
    The pigs are crosses - not sure of the mother, but i think the dad is a Gloucester old spot. it is getting excitingly close, so we better get that fence and shelter up very soon.
    LM - I always try to grow sweetcorn, but can never get it ripe enough. maybe when the polytunnel goes up.
    Sandra - I agree it is such a waste. I have never had lawns for very long.
    San - i have always had great results with my chard, I don't really do anything, other than start it off in modules. I usually grow rainbow mix, but i do find that the ruby chard is very prone to bolting. The slugs don't seem to bother it much.
    Kelly - that photo was taken last week - it is currently blowing a gale right now.
    Good luck with all your gardening plans - as you say Dawn - the planning is the easy part.
    V - lol - i am the same -like a kid with the Argos catalougue - want want want on every page.
    Pippa - we did n't get our bees this year - the bad weather in May meant that the queens couldn't get out for their mating flights. Hopefully next year.

  23. I suspect that even with a "perfect" kitchen garden you'd have run into problems this year. We have 14 4mx2m beds in our vegetable patch, plus a couple of quarter acre fields used for potatoes, kale, neeps and carrots. In previous years, we've always managed to produce most of our vegetables, all our own softfruit and quite a few apples. This year, though, the only successes were the salad crops, broad beans and raspberries. The long, dark, wet year has seen everything else fail to grow well, rot in the ground, or both! In times past, we'd have been heading into a famine year after a growing season like this one. Fingers crossed for a better year next year. All the best with the kitchen garden.

  24. Thank you SH. Yes, imagine all the anguish a year like this would cause in the past. And yet people will still expect low prices in the supermarkets - the grower will have to subsidise that no doubt. Never give up though.


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