Yes, I dared to say it, that hideous word – autumn. In fact, I like autumn. Whenever I’m asked about my favourite season I have difficulty choosing. I think it’s because I’m a fan of the changing season, the start of something new, rather than one particular set of months. Now, as August rolls towards September, there’s a little dew in the mornings even if it hasn’t rained. The breeze, despite the fact we’re about to have a heatwave, has a slightly different feel. And in the garden, whilst everything is still growing and thriving, there are signs that the season is changing. For example, sedum – a plant that is iconic for its autumn colour – is just starting to burst into flower. Dahlias pop colour across the borders, whilst rudbekias and echinacea throw up daisy-like flowers in the air. And then, when Japanese anemones start to drift across the horizon, you know the changing season is here.
Life hasn’t slowed though, and will continue full-throttle towards the bitter cold. Today the first chick of a new batch hatched; a Barbu d’Anver x Silkie cross – a funny little brown thing that looks nothing like I imagined and has me questioning my rooster’s parentage. The single gourd that survives sprawls across and between the raised beds, it’s tendrils unfurling as it grasps for new support. Lettuce seeds pop into life after a few short days, the soil they’re bedded in warm and moist; perfect for germination.
So though autumn might seem a scary thought, it offers a time of change in the garden and an opportunity – certainly in the vegetable patch – not to be missed. I, for one, love it.
It seems incredible that it’s already August. How did that happen? It seems like yesterday I was constructing the raised beds and now they’ve gone through a season of growing and I’m already sowing my second lot of successional crops! It’s been all go here over the past few weeks – hence the lack of updates. Firstly, a HUGE thanks to those who’ve subscribed to my Brimwood Farm YouTube. FIFTY subscribers now! That’s amazing!
My latest video was on harvesting beets, and I thought I had quite a decent crop.
However, it seems when you cook beetroot down and shove ’em into pickling jars, it doesn’t amount to much; three jars to be exact. I will, therefore, be using Charles Dowding’s tip of NOT pricking beet seeds out but growing them in clumps. That should mean that I get 3 or 4 times the crop in the SAME space, though I will probably increase the size of the bed in 2016 a little too.
The Poultry Yard
There’s been a lot going on with the poultry. The quail chicks have matured, and that means I’m getting a TONNE of eggs. My hens are also laying a lot, despite going through a bit of a moult. The latest incubator has (probably) confirmed that myco is present in the main coop. I’ve previously had 100% hatch rate with the eggs, but this time it was ZERO. The two d’Anver eggs (the parents of which are separate) did hatch, however. The only difference is the parents of the main coop eggs were different, but all were fertile; they just didn’t reach hatch. It could be a coincidence but I that’s more like wishful thinking. Alas, it does throw plans askew a little as I cannot hatch from my own birds any longer. That means I’ll have to buy in eggs or chicks to rear for meat…until we move to the farm, at which point any birds left in the myco flock will be culled.
However, I am very happy that Gertrude the silkie and my d’Anvers don’t have myco present. I will do my best to maintain this over coming months and years, and I hope to breed some show birds from these so all is not lost.
A Fondness for Fushias
I’m not terribly keen on fushias, particularly gaudy flowers with bright, clashing purple and pink clashing colours. However, one of the very few plants inherited with this garden was a woody, leggy fuschia shoved in a pot. I took a few cuttings, they took quickly and these are the resulting flowers. Wonderful! I think I’ve finally found a small fondness for these flowers.
Another plant I’m loving at the moment is the fennel. It was actually bought as bronze. It’s not; it’s the bog standard variety. However, it offers some structure and height to the garden, and the flowers aren’t bad either.
I can’t believe the gardening year is actually going to start winding down now. HOWEVER, we can look forward to all those glorious autumn plants, getting bulbs in, sowing winter crops and – I REALLY hope for – some heavy frosts this year to kill off all the pests!
Heeeeeeeaaaatwave. Cor blimey, gov’ner, bit hot ain’t it.
Once again, this is why us Brits are notorious for our weather ramblings; it’s because it’s so changeable. Last week it was monsoons, storms and lashing rain. Now, I’m sat in next-to-nothing with a fan (though, it’s actually pointed at the dogs) and trying to survive the sweltering heat. I do like it in the evenings though; perfect for watering your garden…and catching a few Pokemon whilst you’re at it. 😉
The Ornamental Garden
It has to be said that this year, more than last, I’m noticing the poor soil quality. When I first moved in I got by on a wing-and-a-prayer, but any nutrients in the soil were taken by last year’s season and there’s been lacklustre growth in 2016. However, I have several wheelie bins FULL of chicken dung. This will be nicely rotting down as we speak and then, come November-ish time when I hack back all the herbaceous perennials, I’ll cover the garden in a thick layer of the stuff. Hopefully we’ll have a nice cold spell to break it down further and let all the goodness seep into the soil.
It’s not doom and gloom though, and a lot of plants are growing marvellously. We’ve had a lot of slugs and snails this year, so I’m glad I’ve kept my dahlias in pots. I normally start them off in the greenhouse and plant them out at a later stage. I placed the pots into the borders when I got some decent growth, and then promptly forgot to actually take them out of their plastic pots and dig them in. HOWEVER, this seems to have worked in my favour; the snails haven’t been able to nibble as much, they’re easier to water, there’s added height so the flowers seem to dance above the other plants AND the root system has grown through the pots bases and into the soil. With any other perennial you would not want to do this but as I did my dahlia tubers up each year, this isn’t an issue.
Elsewhere, though I lost my lavenders due to a certain young lady peeing on them (I’ll quickly add, that’s a canine young lady, not a human), the verbena bampton is just wonderful. I’ve taken some cuttings and will do more over the coming weeks. Salvia ‘Kate Glenn’ is also putting on quite the show.
The Poultry Yard
The poultry yard has been getting a little crowded, so I thinned the roosters down again last Friday. This time it was the beautiful Polski cockerels who met their end. It’s quite disconcerting when they’re plucked – they’re a strange sheen of lavender…I expect due to the Silkie gene. Once again I did a wet pluck; that is, dipping the bodies into near-scolding water so the feathers come out easily. It’s SO much quicker this way. It’s all well and good saying I’ll put the feathers to good use, but the last box from the dry pluck is still in the garage…and that took me HOURS. This way, I was able to kill, pluck and dress three roosters in about two hours.
I also moved the young quail into the aviary. They’ve grown to almost adult size in six weeks. I LOVE the colours, so I’ll probably keep all of these and then think about butchery for the next batch. On a non-poultry note, I’m also deliberating bunnies; as in rabbits for nice little bunny burgers. Quick to breed, easy to keep, great grass eaters and you can kill them at home without the need of going to an abattoir. I’m looking into it but am not quite decided – I’d love another source of meat, but killing bunnies…that might be too much for me.
The Vegetable Patch
Have I mentioned how much I love raised beds?! Well I do. They’re fabulous! The onions are almost ready to harvest, the broad beans are done, carrots, radishes and spring onions continue to be sown, pricked out and thrive. The kale is just – WOW; I probably planted too much to handle. I’m going to see if I can sell some along with the eggs, but I’m not sure how many people want to buy kale!
With it now being mid-July, when space allows I’ll also start thinking about sowing lettuces and spinach again. I found they’re very quick to bolt when the weather’s hot but if I sow them now they should thrive in the warm soil and be mature towards the end of August.
Finally – thank you so much for everyone who’s subscribed to the YouTube channel. I’ve got 40 wonderful viewers now! If you want more from The Guide but in video format, click the ‘subscribe’ link at the top of the page on the right-hand side.
How’s your garden growing? Highs? Lows? Tell me about it in the comments!
You know, there’s a reason us Brits are renowned for talking about the weather; it’s because it’s so bloody changeable! June was soooooo wet with a few rogue days of sun. This past weekend gave the hope of a summery spell in July and then, today….raaaaaaain again. It’s not good for my mood, my bank balance or my livestock.
The Kitchen Garden
In the vegetable patch there’s been highs and lows. As you’ve noted, my first ever carrots were harvested, as were the last broad beans. The extremely leggy beets seem to have straightened up a little, though you can see their roots are far from the nice little round harvests. Onions are swelling, nasturtiums are flowering, and the latest round of seeds are sprouting. On that; I’ve had some dismal attempts with seedlings this year. My aubergines and peppers didn’t germinate the first two times, my cucumbers got slugged and my beans looked promising…until I planted them out and they too were decimated by snails (this is the problem with continued wet weather because slugs and snails can munch around the clock). I HAVE started all of these again. Though I’m hopeful for a few beans, cucumbers, marrows and gourds later in the season, it may have been too late to try again with the peppers and aubergines; we’ll see.
My cordon fruit trees have also suffered from the turbulent weather, and have put on little growth. And my newly planted chard was decimated when I had an escapee rooster. Bad, BAD rooster (looks at the cooking pot).
It’s also been a mixed bag for the ornamentals. I love when the dahlias start to come out. This year I haven’t even planted all of them out, deciding instead to nestle the plastic pots amongst the borders. Yes, I need to water but I don’t have to worry so much about slug damage. Hemerocallis is about to burst into life, as are the daisies, echinacea and crocosmia. I haven’t had so much luck with some others though. For instance, I wanted to swathe my ugly but much-needed trellis with Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata). Though the seedlings started off really well, they have NOT liked being planted out. And so, I continue to live with the bare, rickety, horrible fencing. The same could be said for the jasmine which has lacklustre growth. Meanwhile I wondered what awful thing had attacked by beautiful patch of lavenders amongst the grasses…until I saw Bo peeing there. Dog pee, especially bitch pee, is potent stuff. It’ll kill off pretty much anything, especially if its dumped in huge quantities in the same place repeatedly.
The Poultry Yard
Down in the poultry yard I’m happy to say we’ve had an upswing in luck. Tylan put pay to my hens’ respiratory illness and egg count is up – I’m getting 8/9 per day now which is great! I finally have eggs to fulfill demand.
I’ve hemmed and hawed for many months about getting ducks for a number of reasons. A) I love them, b) duck meat and eggs are yummy and c) unlike hens, you can let them out into the garden because they won’t scratch about, they’ll just snap up the slugs and snails. The problem is, we’re running out of space. I really want Muscovy’s, both for nostalgic reasons and the fact they’re pretty much silent. However, when I went to the poultry auction this weekend I realised my childhood memories were askew and they’re bigger than I remember; in fact, they’re like small geese. Also, the ducklings for sale looked less than healthy, so I decided against a purchase….this time.
The number of roosters continues to climb too, and now I’ve got the hand of sexing Pilkies/Polskis (Silkie x Poland) I’ve realised there are more roosters than I believed. AND, I’ve just shoved another load of eggs into the incubator. I’m excited as these will be first ayam cemani’s and barbu d’anvers from my own birds.
Finally, though I didn’t buy any ducks at the auction I did buy a pair of budgies. I know – not strictly smallholding birds. BUT, you could also consider that running a homestead involves creating new revenue streams with livestock. I may not be eating budgies, but I sure can breed them in the future. For now, though, I’ll enjoy Luna and Pluto’s sweet chirping.
Sowing, germinating and growing on has been problematic this year. I started 2016 with a plan. I had a list of vegetables I wanted to grow. I planned when to sow, how long they’d take to germinate, the dates to plant out and times to successionally sow. Has that worked? No!
The problem I’ve had – I don’t know about you – is that though all the seedlings started off well, cold, wet weather stopped them in their tracks. So they languished, ungrowing, awaiting a warm spell. And this meant trouble, because all that rain has encouraged slugs and snails ready to bite. So, I lost my first crop of cucumbers and squashes and beans. My peppers didn’t germinate, and then when they did a rogue chicken got them. My aubergines are growing….slowly.
With the garden centre having a 50% off sale today, I’ve decided to have a last ditch attempt. After all, the sowing periods on seed packets are a guide based on optimal conditions. We haven’t had those conditions. SO, though the gherkin, cucumber and courgette seeds say last plant May/June, today I’ve sown them. The same goes for a new batch of beans. I’ve also done another successional sowing of carrots. Last year I was still getting ripe tomatoes from the greenhouse in November, and we often have an Indian Summer in October now. Of course, now I’m doing this little test it’ll probably get cold early – sod’s law.
There have been some positives though. I picked a glut of broad beans and kale today to go with one of the chooks I killed on Saturday. The onions are also beginning to swell nicely, whilst the nasturtiums are doing their job and attracting aphids away from the vegetables.
I am happy to see some progress in the ornamental garden too. I’ve been taking A TONNE of cuttings, both to use for my own purposes and to sell. I’ve discovered the area of Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR); a whole intricate area of legislation referring to the propagation of plants. I can completely understand that if you bring a new hybrid to market, you want to get some royalty for that plant to pay for the years of work. However, there seems to be an extremely inadequate system for governing this process. So, for now, I’m not getting involved, and propagating older varieties that are not included in the more modern PBR laws. I took a little video of some box cuttings.
The dahlias are also coming into life, though once again, the slugs seem to have got the first few buds. However, a few nightly stomps and their numbers are down so I’m finally getting some blooms!
All in all it’s proving to be a funny year, with some plants romping away and others being extremely lacklustre. Now we’re into July, I really hope we get some proper sunshine though – this is Britain – the torrential rain will probably continue.
In 2015 I opened an Indiegogo Project to fund the seeds for a 2.5 acre wildflower meadow. I didn’t make the target BUT, I did get near-on £500. It meant I was able to start the sowing process and get this little conservation project on its way.
To say there’ve been some difficulties is an understatement. The soil is heavy clay and has been left undulating due to previous ploughing by farmers. The site is several hours away from home so scaring away the thousands of wood pigeons that descended was impossible. It didn’t rain for about a month after the original seeds were sown in 2015 either. Disaster. In fact, when I revisited the site with a team of scythers last autumn I thought we’d wasted the money because nothign much had really happened.
This year however….
I knew there was a lot of perennial seeds in the mix and so there was a glimmer of hope that this year would be a far more decent show than last. At the moment it’s the oxeye daisies that are really stunning. But poke amongst the stems and there are poppies, knapweed, wild mallow, plaintain and all manner of other goodies. There’s a very obvious strip where we sowed but it looks pretty nevertheless. The only thing I’m now concerned about is this year’s scything….we’re going to be at it for days; weeks perhaps!! I also welcome the sight that any leftover oilseed rape plants have died; though in their place are now thistles and flowering docks. These will have to be dealt with at some point so they don’t overtake the field; scything will be extremely important to keep the nutrient levels down.
Honestly, the sight was glorious. There were a pair of buzzards circling in the thermals above, birds flitting in and out of the hedges and the lovely drone of insects. Come the autumn, when we start planting trees into the other end of the field too, this conservation space will be even better.
It’s all coming together!