Hooters Hall

Posts Tagged ‘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 Plans 2017

I spent today tidying up the polytunnel ready for a new growing season. I can get to all my different sized pots and seed trays now.

In the background you can see my Tree Cabbages. I’m gradually adding perennial vegetables to the polytunnel. As well as the tree cabbages we also have some nine star perennial broccoli which we haven’t  tried yet.

Of course the fruit trees are still in place as is the raspberry bed, grape vine and willow patch.

I’ve got some spring onions and carrots in the raised bed already and the elephant garlic that I planted in November is just starting to appear.

I grew a lot of cabbage last year but with the tree cabbages doing so well I’m not doing any this year. I have now got all my seeds for the year.

The first seeds to get planted will be the sweet peppers. They need to in by the end of January to have any chance of a long enough & warm enough growing season. I’ve got a heated propagator so hopefully that will help getting them off to a good start. I’m going to try lots of different varieties and see which does the best.

The tomatoes were very sucessful last year so I’m going to try some different varieties including more heritage plants & some that have an early harvest. I’ve also got some small cherry tomato seeds which I’m planning to grow in our front porch,with basil, to take advantage of the south facing aspect and also so that it’s easy to grab some when cooking in the kitchen.

I’ll be doing another trough of cut & come again salad leaves. I much prefer freshly picked salad leaves rather than the bagged up stuff from the supermarket. Growing them in the trough means I can move then aroubd easily and have them near the kitchen or campfire cooking area for super fresh salads.

Another staple for us is spring onions which are particularly good in the straw bale garden. I did some sucesssional planting last year and we’re still harvesting now.

I haven’t grown carrots for a few years but as well as the early ones I’ve already got in I’ll be doing regular sowings throughout the growing season together with some shallots which I’m growing from seed rather than sets.

We’re still enjoying the basket of fire chillies that I grew and dehydrated in 2015  but I”m going to grow some jalapeños this year, hopefully to have fresh as well as to dehydrate and store.

Building on my sucessful with melons in 2016 I’m going to try growing a watermelon as well as the galia type that I’ve already grown.

In 2016 the polytunnel did turn into a bit of a squash forest towards the end of the summer. To try & avoid that I’m going to grow Butterbush butternut squash which has a more compact habit. I’m also going to grow spaghetti squash again because they were so delicious.

My new challenge for 2017 is going to be sweet potatoes. I’ve got slips suitable for growing in the UK ordered for June. Having enough heat seems to be one of the keys to success so I’ll start them off in my heated propagator and then use cloches.

Fingers crossed for sunshine, just the right amount of rain & a lack of pests.

What to grow ?

Over the past few years at Hooters Hall I have been experimenting with growing different plants and perfecting my propagation skills. At the end of last Summer the goats got into the polytunnel and basically stripped it of all vegetation. Frustrating though this was it did give me the opportunity to have a bit of a think about how we use the polytunnel.

This year I have decided to be a bit more focused. I love growing plants from seed. The magic of planting a seed, getting the environment right to start germination and for the plant to grow. I’ll never tire of that but, then the question is what to grow from seed ?

Having a polytunnel means my growing season is extended and I can experiment with more exotic plants because I can control the environment. I’ve also got a heated propagator so I can get the temperatures just right for germinating specific seeds rather than relying on the British weather.

Most veg books and blogs suggest growing what you eat. Although this is very sensible, and a good place to start for a beginner, I got a bit bored growing lots of carrots, potatoes and onions. We’re also lucky to live in a part of the country where there are a lot of commercial and back garden growers. The veg stalls in our local market are very good with a plentiful supply of very fresh, well priced basic veg and there are plenty of farm gate stalls around and about.

Bearing all this in mind I decided to focus on growing produce that is less everyday, more expensive or harder to get hold of locally and that I can sow in succession (because I do love germinating seeds). I’ve also decided to experiment with straw bale gardening this year. There’s lots of information online about straw bale gardening if you’re interested. Essentially it’s soil less, raised bed growing using straw bales as the growing medium. It takes a bit of preparation, and you need to keep on top of the watering, but the positives include faster growth and fewer soil borne pests and disease. So far it’s involved a lot less weeding and my crops in the straw bales are a few weeks ahead of crops I planted in the soil at the same time.

Getting back to what to grow, after much perusing of seed catalogues and discussions with the Hooters Hall cook (my husband Chris) I decided on the following.

Kohlrabi, Summer Cabbages, Cauliflower, Peas, Broad beans, Spring onions, cut and come again salad greens, Spaghetti squash, Winter squash, Melons, Cucamelons, Basil, Courgettes, Sweet Peppers, Tomatoes, Quinoa and Beans.

As well as plants for eating I’m growing lots of Sweet Peas for the garden, adding to my natural dye garden and experimenting with growing some trees from seed.

Growing everything from seed means I often end up with more plants than I have room for so I’ll be putting any surplus plants on our farm gate stall and in the online farm shop.

Here’s a picture of some of our growing in a straw bale and freshly harvested ready to go in stir fry.

Kohlrabi growing in the straw bale garden

Kohlrabi growing in the straw bale garden

Homegrown Kohlrabi

Homegrown Kohlrabi