Hooters Hall

Posts Tagged ‘growing vegetables’

Start of our mini tree nursery & polytunnel update

Smallholding activities have been somewhat curtailed over the past fortnight after I fell off  my horse Bob and broke my clavicle. With my dominant right arm out of action for 6 weeks I’ve not been able to get started on the sheep shearing but fortunately did get the angora goats sheared before I had the accident.

I am able to hold a hosepipe and with some assistance plant seeds so I have been able to keep the polytunnel on track. It’s looking like we’ll have another big crop of apricots and cherries this year. I think we might have some plums too which we didn’t get last year. The figs are developing nicely too and will hopefully have enough time to ripen this year. This is our 4th year of growing figs and we’ve had a bigger and better crop each year so far. The perennial vegetables continue to do well and we’re harvesting regularly from the nine star broccoli and the tree cabbage.

The grape vines have sprung back into life. We did get some grapes last year but not more than a few bunches. I’ve been told that we should expect a bigger harvest from the third year. This is our second year so I’m just hoping for more than last year.

I planted some melon and watermelon seeds last week and they are already starting to germinate. I’ve started them off in the heated propagator so that they have a decent growing period, which will hopefully mean more chance of a successful harvest. Last year my melons did quite well and were delicious so I want more of them. I also planted some Butterbush squash which are also starting to germinate. Butterbush is a variety of butternut squash bred to be smaller and more bush like with smaller squash. Much as I enjoyed our massive squash harvest last year it did mean we dined on squash a lot even though I gave a lot away so I’m hoping we’ll have a more sensible amount of squash this year and more sensible sizes.

Here’s some pictures from around the polytunnel as you can see the elephant garlic, spring onions and carrots are doing well in the raised beds. I’ll be planting some of my tomatoes in there soon as well.

   My other growing project for 2017 is to start our own little tree nursery. Our longer term plans for Hooters Hall involve increasing the number of trees we have and particularly increasing the number of trees that we can make use of. This is a very long term project so I decided rather than buying in bare root trees I’m going to grow them from seed, which also works out a lot cheaper and is very interesting. As my seed grown trees mature I’ll also take cuttings.

So far I’ve got some Staghorn Sumac mainly for the use of the leaves in natural dyeing, Alder for dyeing and also firewood, Sweet Chestnut, Oak, Silver Birch and Walnut. Germination rates have been quite good and for now my tree seedlings are in the polytunnel. Our plan for the longer term is to create an outside nursery area for the trees. We’re going to fence in the area behind the polytunnel, put down weed suppressant fabric and gradually move our seed grown trees there. It will be accessed from the back doors of the polytunnel so it’ll be easy to move things around.

Here’s some pictures of the start of my personal tree nursery

Polytunnel Update

The weather was a bit changeable this weekend so I was happy having lots of tasks to keep me busy in the polytunnel. Although the polytunnel took quite a battering from storm Doris recently, and we will have to replace the cover, it’s still functioning.

First task for the day was to get my Vitopod cuttings propagator up and running. I’ve found that using the Vitopod significantly increases my success rate, particularly with softwood cuttings. It’s a hydroponic cuttings propagator and I think the hydroponics make it very easy to maintain adequate hydration of the cuttings while they are growing new roots.

Today I took some Bay, Rosemary, Sage and Box cuttings. I also want to take try taking some cuttings from my fig trees later in the season as well as more herbs. I’ve found that taking cuttings from plants that are already thriving in the environment at Hooters Hall generally leads to more success when it comes to planting out.

Here’s a picture of my Vitopod and the first of the cuttings

 The polytunnel is full of seedlings at the moment. I’m shuffling them between the heated propagator, the hot beds and my potting table. The hot beds have been working really well. The temperature does drop a bit more than the heated propagator when it’s a cold day but overall they are keeping a temperature of around 20C. Once I’ve got all my seedlings growing well I’ll be using the hot beds to plant out my sweet peppers and in June I’ve got some sweet potato slips arriving which will also go in the hot bed. If there’s room I want to get at least some of my melon plants in their too although they did quite well just in the raised bed lat year.

Here’s some pics from around the polytunnel as you can see the Elephant Garlic in the raised bed is coming along nicely I’ve also got quite a few shallots and spring onions.

I’ve grown quite a few different varieties of tomato this year. The one that I’m most fascinated by at the moment is Tiny Tim. It’s been bred to be a true windowsill tomato and I’m planning on growing it on a shelf in our South facing conservatory. The plants are perfectly formed and thriving but miniature in comparison with the other tomatoes. Here’s a picture.

As well as miniature windowsill tomatoes I’ve also got some miniature Blueberries which seem to be doing quite well and I’m going to be growing Butterbush a variety of Butternut squash that is more bush like than vine like and which produces smaller squashes. I’m interested to see the produce from these mini varieties. So far the tomato plants are vigorous but tiny and I’m hoping we’ll have a good crop.

Last year I tried straw bale gardening for the first time with great success. I grew cabbage, kohl rabi, beans, peas and spring onions in my straw bales and also planted the same varieties in the polytunnel beds so I could compare them. Without fail the plants in the straw bales were 3 weeks or so ahead of the plants in the beds. You need to keep on top of the watering with straw bale gardening but that wasn’t a problem because we have a water supply in the polytunnel. My straw bales survived the winter and although I wouldn’t want to move them around they seem to be intact enough for another season of growing. I’ve decided to grow salad crops, shallots, spring onions and maybe some carrots in them this year.

To get the bales ready for planting I’ve spent the week watering them and adding some fertilizer to get the decomposition going again. Last year I started my vegetables in trays then planted them in the bales as plug plants. This year I’m more confident so I’m starting the seeds straight on the bales. Today I added a thin layer of compost to four of the bales and then sowed some rocket, spring onions and shallots. Here’s a picture.

My final job of the day was to plant several trays of sunflowers. I have some that have been bred as cut flowers, an edible variety and a super tall variety that I’ll be taking into my workplace for a sunflower growing competition. I’m looking forward to trying the edible variety . The buds, petals and seeds are all edible. According to the sales pitch the petals  can be added to a salad for a colour contrast and a mild nutty taste. The green buds can be blanched, then tossed in garlic butter; being similar in flavour to a Jerusalem artichoke and the kernels inside the seeds can be eaten raw or toasted as a snack.

Hot Bed Update

A quick update on the hot bed we constructed last week. After we had finished construction the temperature of the bed was 10C. The following day saw a slight increase in temperature to 12C. At that point I was expecting a gradual increase of 2-3C each day. However, on day 2 the temperature shot up to 23C.

On day 3 there was a further increase to 30C. The temperature continued to rise on day 4 and 5 reaching a toasty 40C at the end of day 4. We then saw a slight fall in temperature and the bed now seems to be maintaining a steady 34C

I’m definitely going to try growing some pineapples in the bed and also use it for starting tender seeds and for growing on my sweet peppers.

As I mentioned in the last post we used an easy reach, raised bed kit from Solway recycling which gave us a height on 62cm for the bed which I think was instrumental in the success of the heat generation. The bed is 1220cm x 1220cm and I have another next to it that I will be filling up next weekend.

The bed was filled with a mix of pig muck, straw, chicken muck and wood chippings. We currently have our pigs indoors because the paddocks are so muddy which means we have plenty of pig muck and straw each week. Once the pigs are outside again I’ll be using horse manure to top up the beds.

Here’s a picture of the bed in construction again and the current temperature.