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?