Thursday, 29 April 2010

April Smallholding Update

The much needed rain has come. Finally, a chance to get some long overdue jobs done in the house, and take stock! We've been here for just over a month now, and neither Phil nor I can believe that so much has happened in such a short time. It's been continuously sunny for the past month, with a couple of overcast days thrown in, and we've been busy outside in the vegetable garden almost every day. Perhaps it's time for an update:

The Vegetable Garden: From humble beginnings, the fenced-off area now boasts 10 deep beds for vegetables - mostly potatoes and onions at this stage, but we've also planted out some broad beans, peas, parsnips, spinach, and beetroot seedlings. We're crossing our fingers and willing the experimental row of carrots to sprout, and have sown a hopeful row of broad beans between rows of potatoes. The rabbits have already shown interest, daintily destroying half of the parsnip seedlings overnight, and leaving their telltale droppings. The battle has commenced. We were afraid we might have to invest time and money in rabbit-proof fencing, and it looks like that might turn out to be the case - but for now we have had to be cunning, creating makeshift protection out of odd bits of mesh, fleece and corrugated plastic.

The Orchard: We have planted 5 apple trees of different varieties, as well as a damson tree. They are still very young (two years old?), so we'll have a bit of a wait before we can actually harvest any fruit, but it's a good start. We are still debating the pros and cons of planting the soft fruit bushes between the fruit trees - I saw it done like that on a forest gardening documentary and it looked like a great idea, but we're not sure whether or not we should just bunch the soft fruit together in cages so that we can protect them from the birds... There are some really old apple (and some as yet unknown) trees which were already here when we arrived - they looked gnarled and moss-eaten and completely dead until a few days ago when they exploded with blossom. Their yield shall decide their fates... :)

The Polytunnel: The sheer duration of the demonstration DVD should have served as a warning to us, but our optimism knew no bounds... What should have taken a day (or two at the most) has become an ongoing saga. There have been several setbacks in the way of missing parts, but that still doesn't justify such a lengthy project! The digger came in and flattened the area, then we found we needed to gouge out more space by hand. The water and electricity pipes were laid at the same time, and the trough connected - so now we have water in the vegetable garden at least. The hoops have been screwed together and painted (so as not to absorb too much heat), and the hot-spot tape has been stuck on... Slightly prematurely... And now, finally, all the hoops are up, the crop bars have been attached - it looks like the skeleton of a giant metal beast who laid down to die amongst the freshly dug graves. Yes, deep beds look like graves. Which is ironic, given that from them life flows. It reminds me of when I was in Guanajuato, in Mexico, and we were walking up to the Mummy Museum when we stopped at a shop which sold both coffins and fresh vegetables. Clever, I thought to myself, they've got something for everyone, whether living or dead.

The Water Situation: We've got two options for water - the first is the borehole, which goes down about 300 feet and is serviced by a pump. This is the water which comes out of our taps in the houses, and it gives off a smell of sulphur and upon testing was found to contain rather high quantities of manganese. It is alkaline. Hmm. The second is the stream, which would need a good slow sand filter to purify it if you wanted it for drinking water, and due to its course through peaty valleys, it is acid. The seedlings we have been raising in my mum's house have started going yellow, perhaps due to being too alkaline, so we've had to start mixing the two waters to get more of a balance in pH. So far so good, but thank goodness it's raining, because all that carrying is hard work!

My dad just discovered that I am writing this, so has emailed me over a couple of pics (thanks Da'!)... Here's one of the men looking very proud of themselves after the first hoop went up:

And here's one of the women in action - preparing the bed for the beetroot seedlings. You can see the broad beans and peas to the left, and the dead area to the right is where the rabbits found the parsnips:

Wild Food: It turns out that we have some really pernicious weeds in the garden, and it just so happens that some of them are edible. I'm planning on cooking with ground elder for the first time, and the young nettles are looking radiantly healthy too. I have enjoyed nettle soups in the past (the trick being to use a handful of oats in with the nettle leaves - that way they don't tickle as they go down your throat!), but my dad has often spoken of nettle beer (only very mildly alcoholic) so I'm hoping to give that a go too. The bushes and trees around us are springing to life, so it's a really exciting time - in the next few months we'll find out exactly what the fields and hedges have to offer! Who knows, maybe there will be some elder trees, hazelnuts, wild damsons and blackberries, not to mention horse mushrooms, hedge garlic, and fish in the river!

Exciting times! :)


  1. wow, it sounds like you guys are working hard... well done. keep up with the updates. :)

  2. Lovely! I could read that forever, it's so exciting. Keep 'em coming!

  3. Ooh, it all sounds absolutely fantastic. Keep posting, want to read more, and more, and more.

  4. Sooooo exiciting Em, please post loads more and photos and pictures of bumps and baked goods and and and.
    Love to you and your family. x

    Nicola Arciero.

  5. It all sounds delicious! Hope you and bump are keeping and feeling well. x

  6. This is like reading the most awesome series of articles about someone getting a smallholding, except with the added joy of knowing it's happening to a friend who thoroughly deserves it :-) And yay for pictures, but how cunning of you not to show us your bump! Hopefully we'll get to see it at some point though? Lovelovelove xxx

  7. Better Watch out when it comes to Elder Em, theres an old saying that goes
    "Elder be the Lady's tree, burn it not or cursed ye'll be!"

    Fab to read about all the hard work you are putting in and also seeing the photos is awesome!
    Hope you are keeping well

  8. wow what a lovely blog entry, glad to see you smallholding taking shape! how i envy you all that space in my tiny gardenless flat...oh well window boxes with fresh herbs will have to do for the moment!!! Im so glad for you that its all going so well. Keep us updated on the ongoing fight with the rabbits and tell ya dad that i love his green overalls....esp the patchwork knee patches, i'll have to get myself a pair i think :D

    p.s. i made some jamaican crunch pie for the lads this week....i tried to take a picture of my efforts but they ate it too quickly :D xxx