Monday, August 25, 2008

Garden Food Production

The garden hasn't exactly had the chance to over-produce this year, since the only plantings were experimental. But we've had a good batch of potatoes, a courgette (more on the way), about ten tomatoes, and some spring onions. It's enough to prove the case, at least, that the place can produce food.

However, in conversations about the garden - and I apologise to those people whose ears I have talked off in recent weeks about the topic - it's starting to come up that many people's experience of food production at home is that they end up with too much. I've been thinking about that, because while anything that gets produced can be either eaten, given away, or preserved in some manner, I'd like to spread things out a bit. The ideal, I reckon, is to produce all the vegetables we need (and can reasonably grow in Ireland), and at least some of the fruit, and not to under- or over-produce.

Actually getting to precisely that state is probably harder than it sounds. You really can't predict, when you sow seed, how much is going to come up, and you can't know in advance what the depredations of slugs, blight, or other problems are going to be like. So you have to sow more than you really want to reap, just to be on the safe side.

I also think we're going to have to change our eating habits. At the moment, the main vegetable we use is the bell pepper - and unless we really do well with the greenhouse, I can't see us producing enough peppers to last the year. So there's going to have to be some adjustment toward eating the things we can produce - which is probably better than buying in peppers from elsewhere anyway.

The notion of overproducing any one crop is making me think, though, that the way to go is a wide spread of different crops. Staples like onions and potatoes can have reasonably large numbers, since they keep well. Carrots will probably get in there as well. And after that, I'm starting to think that single rows of lots of different things forms a good plan.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Where To Paint First?

We've a decision to make, some time in the next few weeks, and that's what room we're going to paint first. We're not going to do anything fancy; just get the furniture away from the walls, strip the wallpaper (two layers in most places), and paint it plain white. Other colours, feature walls with wallpaper, and so on, will follow when we know what the light is like. At the moment, though the existing wallpaper is just not doing the place any favours.

The kitchen will be awkward to work on, and I think I'd really like to get another room done first. That would be the upstairs bedroom or the sitting room/library, really, and I'm leaning heavily toward the latter. Sure, there are lots of bookshelves in there, but the books are not in any real order at the moment, so taking them off the shelves and putting them back half-randomly won't do any harm. In the bedroom, there's less furniture to move, but we need to sleep in there, so I'd like to get it done in one day, if it were at all possible. And knowing if that's possible needs the practice of doing another room first.

I've never actually done wallpaper stripping before, though. I was considering the notion of just painting the wallpaper, but I'm told that the result is inevitably unpleasantly sagging wallpaper and uneven colour. So that's out.

Expect "before", "in progress" and "after" photographs when we get going.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Winter Garden Seed Shopping

I had a plan all worked out for the vegetable garden next year. I had drawn a plan of it to scale, done the research, worked out what would go where, allowed for the perennials I want to put in, and everything. Can I find it now? Not a bit of it.

However, it may be as well, as I've started to think about what I could actually sow now for winter and spring cropping. Winter lettuces are one definite possibility - sowing now would mean I could harvest from October to May. "Winter Gem" is a variety that comes highly recommended. Thompson and Morgan don't seem to carry it, though, and they have the best recommendations on seed quality. They do carry the "Arctic King", and "Butterhead" varieties, though, and they seem to be pretty hardy. I'll try Butterhead.

Turnips and swedes will grow through the winter, certainly, but the only times I ever use the things are in stews. And there's a limit to the number of stews I can make. So they're probably not a going concern, unless some of my local readers will volunteer to take some of the things off my hands.

There's a breed of carrot called "Autumn King", which is specifically for autumn sowings, and could be harvested as early as October, if I plant now. Carrots are good filler for stews, pies, soups and so on, and can be grated into salads, so I reckon we'd have a use for them. T&M carry "Autumn King 2", so that gets added to the shopping basket as well.

Peas are very favoured, and an early crop next year would be very nice indeed. T&M are out of my preferred winter option, "Meteor", and don't seem to have any other autumn-sowing varieties. I'll have to look elsewhere for those.

For onions, which I'll always have uses for, I'm looking at something called a "Hi Keeper F1 Hybrid". Technical name, but it can be planted in September, and not thinned until spring. Ideal, so into the basket with that, too.

So lettuce, carrots, and onions, and I'll have to look elsewhere for peas. I seem to recall that some varities of potato might do for autumn planting as well - I'll have to do some more research.

Courgettes & Greenhouse Crops

Things are growing well in the garden. We had the first real produce two weeks ago; potatoes. The plants were starting to fall over, having not produced flowers, so I figured that for sprouting supermarket potatoes, they'd probably done all that they could. Up they came...

... and as you can see, the crop - this is from a plot of about two square feet, at the very most - was respectable enough. I steamed them, and they turned out very well indeed. Even the Lodger pronounced them excellent.

In the meantime, the courgette plant, the single one that came up, has gone from this protected little specimen:

... to this monster:

... and since then has gone into actual production. If it keeps going at the current rate, I reckon we'll be eating the first courgette around the end of this week.

In the greenhouse, things have boomed:

The front left is a butternut squash,the front right a greenhouse cucumber. They're already about twice as big as in this picture (taken only a week ago), and are starting to produce flowers, so I'm hopefully of some cropping from them soon. I recall having to pinch out the tips of squashes before, but I'll do some research before I try it on this one. The cucumber is doing a rather cool thing where any joint of the plant that reaches the ground starts to develop roots. Behind them are the two tomato plants, which have thus far produced two fully ripe tomatoes and host of as-yet unripe ones, and the sweet pepper, which has just today developed some tiny buds that look like they might yet become peppers.

And finally, we have blackberries growing in our hedgerow:

I clipped back the ash and hawthorn that make most of the hedge today, and left about six good brambles protruding, all of which have berries at various not-quite-ripe stages of maturity. There's also a few good bunches well out of reach in the hedge, but they're close enough to the house that I think a ladder and some not-too-precarious leaning should reach them.

Rainproof House

We had record breaking rain in Ireland yesterday, and I'm happy to note that effects on the house were minimal. The back door, which was facing directly into the oncoming rain, had some water creep in at the top, and even lodge on top of the door itself, but I'm putting that down to the sheer quantity, and the west wind driving it in. All the other windows, or at the least the ones that were closed, kept out the rain perfectly well, and the drains nearly coped. Given the volume, I think some overrun was allowable. I do need to get some sort of rain butt for the garden, though - it's a complete waste of water to have it run off into the local drainage system, and overburden the already swamped drains and sewers.

The rain itself was spectacular; a dense haze of water, thicker near the ground where raindrops were rebounding by about a metre off concrete and tarmac. We were just in the door of the local supermarket when it started, and even the roof there sprang a few leaks. Other people weren't so lucky, and I understand there's been plenty of flooding, with the M50, M3 and M1 hit badly.