Wednesday, 29 June 2016

June, Comparing the past

June, Comparing the past

A quick look back at the same time of year for the last 4 Junes. Click on photos to enlarge.
June 27th 2013
June 24th 2014
June 30th 2015
June 29th 2016

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Asparagus Pea

The Asparagus Pea

Often you'll hear "alternative" gardeners and Permaculture people either rave or put forward the idea that growing Asparagus Pea is a good way of adding diversity and sustainability to the food we eat. Another good food source that also looks pretty in the garden.

Utter tosh!

We have just grown, harvested, and tried to eat a modest crop.
This one, for the purpose of a photo is about twice the recommended size for eating. Pick them while they are about 1 inch in length I read.

I picked them big and small and tried them raw. A better test would be to cook them but within the same minute that they entered our mouths to try they then hit the bin!

I had known what to expect as I watched a Youtube video of a serious gardener showing a lovely looking crop in a raised bed. He then went on to explain that once grown the best thing to do with Asparagus pea is to rip it up and plant something else.

I concur. Texture similar to cardboard and no taste. What a waste as a food crop. They are quite pretty though. Been there done that, and have learnt by the mistake.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Finally the flowers show

Finally the flowers show

A lot of the self seeded Poppies have come and gone, and the Sweet Williams have been showing for a while, and although the Corn Cockles started flowering a while ago it's only now that they are out in numbers.

June 2016, Old Bonfire site
This is the old bonfire site that I seeded a couple of seasons ago. Most of what is there is now self seeded although when I was walking past this site in the Autumn and early spring I often chucked a few seeds at it. I presume I threw a few Sweet Williams down because I wasn't expecting them. 

This is how I wanted a few other areas of the garden to look but nowhere else has taken as well as the chard, full of ash, didn't expect much site of the old fire.

Pond June 2016
The area around the pond is about to burst into life. The Red Campions have been and gone but the White ones are still going strong (middle of photo). On the right are self seeded Sweet Williams with loads of Daisies about to flower behind them.

The trellis put up to help shelter the poly-tunnel from the wind became another flower bed, with a few mixed packets of flowers plus a few handfuls of Corn Cockles thrown in. Sown in the spring, it's about to burst into life after being ravished by slugs. I also planted a few spare runner beans along the trellis. Because the sun keeps being intermittent, I had missed a few Livingston Daisies that are in flower. They open and close with the sun and I just managed to catch them fully open. 
Trellis bed, June 2016
These were a nice surprise as I don't remember them listed on the packet but when ever I get free seed I often throw them somewhere hoping for a surprise so these may well be a thrown in after thought.

There are a few neglected areas this year where I just haven't had time to sort things out. A few of the small beds next to the green house have self seeded chard and spinach but also a giant poppy which has been in various places around the garden in previous years but I don't know what it is. I like things that just appear, even if I don't know what they are. There was one in the bonfire site last year and in the fruit garden the previous year. No idea where it came from but it could have been from a packet, or the previous owner or, probably, some seed I grabbed walking past somewhere and just through on the floor.
Around the pergola I have runner beans on all 3 sides with sunflowers in the middle of the bed and then some Cosmos and Marigolds on the edge of all sides. I'm hoping for a layered effect. 

Nasturtium have self seeded and one or 2 of last years failed Dahlias have shown themselves. Last year the bed was full of pot started Dahlias which when planted out got 100% eaten by slugs. These were replaced with lots of spare tomato plants, which have also self seeded this year. There is also a self seeded Dog Rose just starting and I'm pleased with the 2 young grape vines which have made it through the winter. I have weeded the bed of thistles on three occasions now and have had to resort to using slug pellets on this bed but, like a few other beds, this one is not far off flowering. The beans got a little stunted with slug damage and a few cold nights a month ago but they are now happily climbing. I've only lost 2 or 3 sunflowers with about a dozen remaining.

I'm rather hoping with the tall beans and their pretty red flowers, tall sun flowers along with the Cosmos and Marigolds and the odd Dahlia that this bed will look fantastic. The Sunflowers are from bird seed. I bought 25kg of sunflower seed for the birds and have half of it left. It is a couple of years old but germination rates have been close to 100%. No idea what type of sunflowers they are, but they look like they will be tall ones.
Pergola bed, June 2016

The photo shows the back side, this arrangement of plants is also on the other 2 sides.

The Greenhouse tomatoes have grown well and are a minimum of twice the size of the outdoor ones although we had to clean the greenhouse windows as I think they have become a bit leggy, reaching for the sky looking for more light. The windows were a tad dirty and hand't been cleaned for 3 years. Anyway, that's another job done that can be crossed off of the list!
Greenhouse June 26th 2016

There are a lot of flowers but the young tomatoes are only 1 or 2mm in size. 

The Tay Berry in it's second year has really come alive. Last year there were a few berries but this year it has really gone for it. Hopefully I'll get to them before the kids do.

The Logan berry is also looking good with plenty of berries.

Tay Berry June 2016
Else where, the Asparagus bed has only half survived so I have let them go to seed and will try and sow these in the Autumn / next Spring because I'm still hopeful of having a nice big Asparagus bed. In the mean time this bed is home to 10 or so Courgette plants inter planted with Sprout....well, it seemed like they would go together! The Courgette plants almost all have Courgettes on with 3 or 4 almost good enough size to harvest. I'm hoping to take a few to sell on the Market just to see if anyone will buy and if not they'll have to be part of Tuesday's dinner.
Asparagus Bed, June 2016

There are thousands of Raspberries but with all the rain they are rather swollen and are breaking apart as we try to pick them. More rain as I write means that my hopes of selling some aren't looking too good. The strawberries are ripening nicely but we may be well down on these since my idea of weeding one of the beds was to cover them with manure. The weeds are mainly gone but obviously so are the strawberries. This wouldn't have been a problem had it not been for the fact that the original strawberry bed was neglected and isn't doing to well after I weeded it and those plants are a bit old. The new Strawberry bed was also neglected and although there are hundreds of plants they are almost totally covered in weeds. I'm going to weed them tomorrow but I think the slugs may have a strong hold under all that vegetation.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Our own market stall

Our own market stall

We have got own market stall. Although we have done a couple of days on a market before, and although I have worked a few hours at a time on a stall for someone else for a few months, and even though we have joined in the local country market held in the church hall in the past, this feels like a big deal.

A couple of 1 off craft market days and 3 hours per week on a small, low key country market, is one thing but the step up to a full market stall each Tuesday seems to be a much bigger proposition. Every thing is now down to us, and a 10ft stall to fill and look professional enough, even though it's a bit early in the year for us is posing problems not previously thought of.

For a start, we don't have many things to sell yet. We are selling home made crafts, home grown fruit and veg, some grown or made by us, some crafts by other similar people, but exactly what we are selling is a loose idea at present and it will evolve. All we know is that we have to try and sell something to do with our lifestyle and something we can keep going.

Week 1
We started by offering some cards and gift tags made by a local artist, some home made cloth zipped bags made from recycled clothes, a decorate your own bag kit on the craft side, some bags of Chard, Spinach, Rocket, Lettuce and Kale of the leaf fresh veg side, with some Globe Artichokes and also some vegetable plants in large pots, such as Tomatoes, Courgette, Cape Gooseberry and Celery.  Also eggs from the garden chickens. The idea is not to compete directly with anyone so the veg side was the Chard and Spinach that you can't buy anywhere else and the potted plants are in large pots so that all the hard work is done for people. Many people like the idea of growing their own food but don't want or don't have the time to do it. The tomatoes for example have canes in and are already tied to the cane by a piece of cloth. Perfect to place in a sunny location, perhaps by the back door. This also made good use of about 50 large pots that I had been given. The eggs are priced at the higher end so not to compete with the very cheap eggs around which allows people to buy into the idea that garden raised chickens are better, not mass produced etc.

The first week saw about 7 or 8 customers and sold 14 items. Something from each section.

I made a decision to listen to what anyone said so that when some one asked if I had a Cucumber plant for example I wrote it down and said I'd bring one next week. People always seem to ask you for things that you haven't got :) Four people asked about Cucumbers, several about Runner beans, one regarding Leeks and I got the general feeling that people liked the idea of growing veg in large pots.

The next most common question that people asked was "are you here next week, or every week?" - it became clear that what people really get annoyed about is turning up on another week to get something only to find the stall isn't there. I see it all the time, the forecast is for rain so one or two stalls don't turn up because they know it'll be a very slow day. People seemed to be impressed when I said that we'd be here come rain or shine every week. One lady commented that she parks, walks past the market on the way to the newsagents and it'd be handy to pick up some eggs once in a while. If I wasn't there, or was unreliable, she'd have to take a different route that she knew would have eggs on that odd occasion. People like that aren't price sensitive, they want convenience. The second week would prove this point.

I also picked up on 2 other points that appeared important. A lot of people either commented directly or I over heard them commenting as they walked past, that they were impressed with the look of the plants. The other point was that a few people will spend a while looking through the water colour painted cards, although they weren't buying. They would quite happily spend 3 or 4 minutes flicking through them without buying. Perhaps there wasn't enough choice. We rectified this for week 2. The point about the plants looking good reminded me that Outside many shops you get shelving of loads of flowers or veg in small pots. There are so many that they don't sell quick enough which leads to the plants becoming too big for the pots, they dry out too quickly and then look shabby. I even saw this outside Tesco the other day. The more you look you'll see that these plants start to look poor. I realised that there is no point just bringing any old plant with a few bad leaves in the hope of selling it. That just leads to us looking like everyone else. Only display the perfect plants. A plant with a slug nibbled leaf can be left at home until it grows more good leaves. Keeping up the quality seems obvious.

Week 2
We contacted another local artist that we new who had many different designs of water colour painted cards, all were pictures of the local area. Landscapes, buildings and cartoons based upon the area. More choice and more people stopped to look through them. We also sold some. It was clear that when people recognised things in the pictures, such as a local landmark they were far more excited.

I had learnt that no one was interested in Globe Artichokes, they are too niche, too different. They have been dropped. No point trying to sell something just because you have them - they take up room that could be better used. Apart from that we stayed consistent - same produce, but added the Cucumbers, Runner beans and Leeks.

Even though the forecast was for rain and I knew the market would be much quieter and had expect to sell less, the opposite happened. The Runner beans in modules sold, the Leeks in modules sold, as did the Cucumber in a large pot as well as the two large pots of Runner beans growing up the canes. All the plants were bigger, with an extra weeks growth. Not only were there more customers, some were repeat customers from the previous week and the number of items sold was up to 30. Money taken was also doubled. And this was on a bad weather day.

There were several customers who clearly wanted veg in large pots but didn't know how they could get them home, but because we pass their houses on our daily routine it made sense to offer them a free delivery service in the Dutch Cargo Bicycle.

I even saw the example of convenience buying when someone parked nearby and was on the way to a shop, uninterested in the market, but caught site of the eggs and quickly bought some.

Speaking with a couple of other traders they made the point that as long as you keep turning up your business will grow. Markets are well down on their hay day so when a new stall arrives local people talk about it.Word spreads rapidly and people will seek you out.

So far so good
It's obviously very early days but selling the fresh items like Chard that people simply can't buy anywhere else and providing a grow your own veg in large containers service looks like a nice little niche market and I can see that as the plants get bigger and the tomato plants get tomatoes on them then they will attract a higher price and sell even better.

A nice surprise
I have often been told, when I worked on a fruit and veg stall, that Celery doesn't sell, not enough people want it. I took down 10 pots of Celery and sold 8. Again you can't buy young celery plants anywhere that I have seen, but clearly there is a market for them.

We're feeling very positive and all the hours spent in the garden growing our own food is now starting to earn money. We even have a plan that when the plants stop selling they will still be in the garden producing fruit and veg, which can be harvested and sold as fresh veg. 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

First Strawberry and ground cover

First Strawberry and ground cover

It'll be interesting to see just how many days the poly-tunnel brings on Strawberries before the outside ones. 
The 28th May saw the first one. I'd had my eye on it for a few days, but I hadn't reckoned on one of the kids being quite so eagle eyed as well! There are now a few more ready.

For the last couple of years I have been using strawberry plants as ground cover, and although they worked well for a year or so, ultimately they have been beaten by grass.

I'd love to find something that can act as a ground cover, suppress specifically grass, and also be a crop. Up until now I've always thought that cover needed to block light but not take too many nutrients or water from the soil so that the main plants could still grow well but I managed to catch the last minute or 2 of Gardeners Question Time the other day and heard that it has been discovered that some plants don't block others in this way but instead they release chemicals into the soil that actively stop other plants from growing and even stop their seeds from germinating. The other way plants reduce competition is by being parasitic or semi-parasitic as in the case of Yellow Rattle. Yellow Rattle feeds on the roots of grasses, but my search is still on to find a plant that provides food and that will have shallow roots so as not to impede fruit bushes for example but at the same time suppress weeds and grass by blocking light. 

There are many examples of other plants doing this, and a few of them are evident just by walking around the garden. Hedge Wound Wort seems to block out competition well,it grows like a Nettle and there are very few other things around it. Even my Fritilary flowers, which are bulbs, grow in the grass but immediately around them the grass is pretty much bare. Garlic Mustard seems to be on it's own as well and although on the edge next to a hedge in semi shade grass is either side of it but not growing through it although I think this is a combination of lack of water, with lack of light making the grass very week, stick a shade loving plant next to it and the grass has no chance. The problem with the examples I can find are that they don't provide food or are too big and spread like a weed and so would just swap one problem for another.

The next thing I'll try is a combination of Lamb's Lettuce and Strawberries, both can be harvested and both spread well. Both will fit under Gooseberry and Currant bushes as well.