And Back to Real Life…

We’re now into pea-picking with an abundance of fresh peas every few days – we’re bringing home about 1.5kg – 2.5kg every couple of days. Admittedly, there’s a fair bit of that weight that’s pods, not peas but, even allowing for that, we’ve put over 3kg of peas into the freezer in the past week.

Calabrese is just starting to head up nicely on the allotment, taking over from the summer purple sprouting broccoli as that goes over in the garden. The chickens and rabbits are loving the uprooted brassica plants! Cauliflower in the garden are also now over (and we’ve frozen a couple of kg): on the allotment they’re looking healthy but not yet forming heads.

The red onions are now all lifted and drying, the whites are starting to come home.

We’ve been eating our own courgettes this week and the plants are flowering well, so the supply should keep up for a while yet. Tomatoes are still coming in steadily from the plants in the conservatory, though the harvest this year isn’t a patch on the super crop last year. Last year we were growing grafted plants and next year we’ll go back to them – hopefully that’ll bring back our bumper harvests!

Beetroot are coming in nicely from the garden and looking good for later on the allotment, too. At the moment we’re just eating them as they come but hopefully we’ll start freezing and pickling soon.

We singled the swedes today and it looks very promising – we should have enough swedes to be self-sufficient for the year. The bunnies and chooks pounced on the thinnings, too!

The buckwheat has been a major disappointment; it never really got past the white clover and though some of it flowered, the rest just didn’t do anything. I’m clearing it all in sections for rabbit food, so it’s not wasted, and I’ll try again next year without the clover. Perhaps I need a less vigorous cover-crop! We’re also having trouble finding the main carrot, parsnip and root parsley sowings through their clover cover, though once ferreted out the plants look healthy, and we’re putting a heck of a lot of clover top-growth into the compost bins so the compost should be good! I will be on the lookout for a less thorough cover-crop for next year’s sowings, anyway.

I’m awaiting delivery of a vacuum packer/sealer that will assist in our long-term storage plans, and I’m also about to order a canning pressure cooker from the States (why do we have to import them from the States? Why aren’t they available here??) which will also widen our preservation horizons. Further updates as and when these tools arrive!

Our new freezer is installed in the shed and purring quietly away to itself, so we’re in the process of clearing the freezers in the house and defrosting them, then one will be put up for sale, one will stay in the kitchen for stuff we want kept handy indoors, and the third small one is now outside ready to be dedicated to dog-food and (once I start slaughtering young bunnies) ferret food.

The bunnies are doing well; Jezebel’s bunch have just opened their eyes so it won’t be long before their poor mum has to fight her way into the food dish at breakfast time! It does look as if she has nine, though the little devils are still being a bit elusive in the nest and lurking under the surface. Delilah is due next week and Trudy a few day after that, so this weekend will be nest-box-building time again!

My application to join the local gun club is ticking along through the process and I’m hoping that soon I’ll be learning new skills and, eventually, will have the ability and the opportunity to add some larger game to the menu; geese and deer spring to mind. That will be a good way down the road, though – I need about 6 months with the gun club as a member before I can apply for my FAC (Firearms Certificate) and then a while longer proving my safety and reliability (not to mention building accuracy and skill) at the gun club, punching holes in paper targets, before I can apply to have my licence ‘opened’ and be allowed to shoot anywhere but on the firing range.

I would like any politicians reading this to realise that it’s the proposed air-rifle licensing legislation that’s pushed me into applying for an FAC! If I have to spend the money getting a secure cabinet, doing the paperwork and jumping through the official hoops to get an air-rifle licence, I might as well expand my shooting interests from the (previously) cheap option of an air-rifle into the (hitherto) more expensive realms of rifle and shotgun ownership. If they hadn’t started mithering about the air-rifle requirements, I might never have got round to the paperwork for the FAC and SGC, though I have previously shot both rifle and shotgun (on private land, under instruction from the fully licensed owner!) and enjoyed them both.

So there, politicos!

 

Mid-July: another update

The harvesting is coming along steadily and we’re regularly eating our own potatoes, peas, beetroot, radish, onions, shallots, spinach and kale at the moment, so I thought it might be a good moment to pause and round-up how the first half of the growing year is getting along.

The onions have been superb, with some of the red and most of the white still to lift on the allotment and all the whites at home now lifted. The bulbs are as good as any in the shops (and much fresher, of course!) The shallots are now all lifted and I’ll weigh them tomorrow after I trim them and just before I put them into brine ready to pickle. We’ve lifted a moderate potato crop so far – 1.5kg of first earlies and 2.35kg of second earlies (half the 2nd earlies still to come) but considering they’ve had poor soil, no earthing up, no additional feeding and got frost-nipped early in the year, I think they’ve struggled through gamely! They certainly taste delightful.

Beetroot are only just coming ready to harvest and we’ll probably eat them as fast as we harvest them, because we never plant enough and we love them!

The peas have now reached the stage where we’re podding the dwarf earlies, having enjoyed them as mange-tout up to now, and the maincrop Lord Leceister peas are looking very promising, though not quite ready to pick yet. Another week or two should see us filling up the freezer with peas, not just filling up our plates!

The runner beans are looking very disappointing – peely-wally, as the local idiom has it; pale and feeble. The brassicas seem to be surviving, though we have fought a battle of catch-up with netting and the local birds over the past week!

On the subject of freezers, we’ve just got round to clearing enough space in one of our sheds to put in a big chest freezer. At the moment we run three small freezers in the house, which is about the least efficient way to run a freezer! One of them is a real PITA, being a front-opening affair with drawers, so every time the door’s opened all the cold air falls on your feet and the freezer has to start chilling all over again. It ices up at the drop of a hat and the shelves use up a lot of space, reducing the storage capacity. Freezers are most efficient when they’re full and when they’re kept in a cool place, because then they have less work to do chilling their contents down to temperature properly, so one big one out in the shed will store a lot more produce, more efficiently and for less power used, so cheaper into the bargain.

On the rabbit front, Trudy’s litter are still growing nicely and devouring their own weight in fresh grass and weeds every day, Jezebel has nested in her nestbox ready to kindle (she’s due on Sunday) and both Delilah’s mating with Samson and Trudy’s mating with Tigger seem to have taken, so they’re be two litters due in August. It’ll be nice to prove Tigger’s fertility, too – Samson’s is already proven, as those 6 little devils of Trudy’s show!

Barley

The traditional commercial cereal crop around here is barley – mostly destined for the whisky distilleries. Oats grow well and wheat is occasionally seen, but mostly the golden summer fields in these parts are barley. I’m experimenting this year with growing barley on the allotment – I won’t be able to grow enough to do all the feed for the livestock but I can do some, and the principles will be useful when I scale up in future years.

Most of the commercial farmers have now just finished drilling their spring barley so I bought a sack of barley from the local feed merchants/farmers’ suppliers and did some research into how much I needed. I’m only sowing an area 7m by 1m, not a whole field, so the 25kg sack that I got (the smallest they sell) is far too big! It won’t go to waste, though – I’m sprouting some for the bunnies and the chickens will certainly eat whole barley without complaint if the sprouting doesn’t work out.

I looked up the sowing rate for barley and it’s recommended for spring sowing at 350-400 grains per square metre, with the higher rate being better for later plantings. I have better things to do than sit and count that many grains of barley, however, so I counted 50, then weighed them on the kitchen scales. 50 grains weighs 2g, so multiplied by 8 (to give the weight of 400 grains) and then by 7 (for my 7 square metres of seed bed) gave me a grand total of 1,12kg of grain required in total.

Our weather’s been very dry and the soil, being short of organic material, is also on the dry side, so to give the seeds a good start I decided to soak them in water overnight. This softens the seed coat, kickstarts the germination process and means I don’t have to muck about watering the whole seed bed after sowing and risk washing my broadcast seeds into clumps.

Soaked barley seed

Soaked barley seed

The following morning, I took my now somewhat greater volume of barley, all plump and luscious-looking, to the allotment and carefully scattered it as evenly as I could over a freshly-raked bed, then raked it in lightly. The fresh grain was a brilliant shiny gold against the soil, practically glowing, and the local rooks were almost queueing up watching, so raking helps to camouflage the seeds in the soil slightly as well as helping to get them into the soil for when they root. You can see in this picture how the grains on the left are less visible than those on the right.

Barley seed, partly raked in.

Barley seed, partly raked in.

The rooks were still watching, though, and all the crow family are intelligent, resourceful critters, so I finished off by stretching a length of fleece over the bed and weighting it down around the edges with rocks.

Barley, safely covered with fleece.

Barley, safely covered with fleece.

Now I just have to wait and see how it does!

Food Security in the Warming World

I’m just coming into the final week of an online course on climate change (via Coursera) which discusses the degrees of warming we are currently on course for in the next century. It’s both depressing, in that we’re aiming for 2 degrees of climate warming by 2050 and over 4 degrees by 2100, and inspiring, in that there are still things we can do that will reduce these figures significantly. One of those things is to reduce our emissions on the individual level and this post discusses combining that reduction with another topic close to any survivalist’s heart – food supply.

One of the biggest looming problems that is really going to bite in the coming decades is the global food supply. At the moment there are about 7 billion humans in the world. By 2050 it’s predicted there’ll be 9 billion humans, which will require a 70% increase in agricultural production world-wide if everyone’s going to get enough to eat. We’re already cultivating 40% of the world’s useable land (http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2005/12/1209_051209_crops_map.html) and every year some of that land is degraded beyond useable condition due to our farming – soil degradation, desertification (http://www.worldometers.info/). The scale of the problem is quite well laid out in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s webpage where they list all the various areas of food production that need to be boosted to achieve this aim – basically, all of them. (http://www.rsc.org/ScienceAndTechnology/roadmap/priorityareas/food/agriculture/) Do we really think we can achieve all of this, when we also know that climate change will reduce both available agricultural land and crop yields across large areas of the Earth’s surface?

Whether we do or we don’t, how can we secure our own food supply? Not by importing food from abroad, as the UK does now with over 40% of its food supplies! (http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/issue/uk.html) I’m tackling this aspect of future-proofing my family’s food supplies not just by resorting to the survivalist’s traditional tool, which is to lay in a stock of preserved food for emergencies, but also by working to grow more of our own food. This year I’ve taken on a 20m by 20m plot on a local allotment site to supplement the deep beds in the back garden at home. This way we’ll know that the food we eat is fresh, healthy, local (hasn’t been flown half-way round the world, with associated emissions!) and since I’m hand-cultivating and using home-made compost, we’re also avoiding emissions from tractors and the use of fertilisers derived from hydrocarbons.

This isn’t new to us – my grandmother got her family through WWII on the produce of her garden, my mother brought us up largely from her allotment and I’ve had allotments and smallholdings in the past. We’ve always had rabbits, both as pets and, for three generations, for meat and fur production. The allotment should see us producing most of the food we need for the bunnies we have at the moment, together with a lot of the food that our flock of 6 chickens need to continue laying us a couple of dozen healthy fresh eggs each week.

I’ll be keeping records of what we produce both at home and on the allotment, so watch this space for details of how we’re succeeding in securing our food supply and reducing our emissions simultaneously!

Better yet, by meeting others on the allotment site, I’m engaging with my local community and have the opportunity to assist my neighbours with their own adaptation to future climate change by improving their food security. That will reduce their reliance on others, enable us all to gain friends and skills, and knock-on to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases for the entire community.