Preparing More Beds

It surprises me how much time it takes just to prepare the new beds. I could have spent this entire season just mowing the grass, rotovating, digging, raking, setting up the fence, and have had a comfortable time doing just that. I’m glad I planted the first potatoes when the first bed was ready though, because they’re almost ready for harvest now, when I’ve still got 4 beds left to prepare. I’m not behind schedule according to the information on the back of the seed packets, but there’s no time for zipping cocktails in the corner of the kitchen garden yet. Hopefully there will be time when I’m done sowing the seeds (apple juice… cocktails, that is.) The cocktail bench is still in the garage collecting dust, where it has been since we moved in last year, together with my 4 precious self-watering polystyrene boxes, which I haven’t had time to set up yet this year. I’m not sure they’ll be that important this year, as my tomato plants and cucumber plants are growing surprisingly well out in the open, despite the very sandy soil. I guess they have reached the rotovated pieces of lawn and topsoil that was filled into the beds, before the sandy soil on top. I used the rotovator on the raw lawn-like patch, and threw the resulting mix of grass, grassroots and topsoil to the one side, and used the rotovator once again, now 25 cm (10 inch) lower in the ground than before, and threw the sandy soil found below, to the other side. Then the mix from the upper layer went to the bottom of the now 50 cm (20 inch) hole, and the sand back on top of the bed. Now I have almost no weeds on top of the beds, since the weed roots and seeds have been buried below 25 cm of sandy soil, but the downside is that there’s practically no nutrients in the sandy soil, but apparently the tomatoes and cucumbers have hit gold below.

I have set up most of the wire mesh fence around the kitchen garden but there still large holes which the cat insist on using as entrances to it’s personal Kitty garden. Cats and newly prepared soil for sowing don’t mix well, or, the result is pretty chaotic. Deep holes from paws, small pyramids covering toilet visits, long running tracks for hunting squirrels and occasional dating events with male cats (which have even larger paws). Again, kitchen gardening is also about doing things in the right order, and having patience, which can be hard when the sun is shining and the weather is perfect in the middle of the season, and all you have to do is stare at some stupids empty beds, because the fence is not up yet. But next year it will be better, right? We’re growing.

And the potatoes are growing, like crazy. As far as I know they like sandy soil. In total the potato bed would be 27 meters long (89 feet) if the 3 beds were added together. There are two rows in each bed, which would be like one row of potatoes, 54 meters long (177 feet), and with 30 cm (12 inches) between each plant that’s… an awful lot of tubers. I’m looking forward to see just how much food will come from the potato bed – we’re keeping a log in a small note book in the kitchen each time something fresh comes in.

The rhubarbs have yielded like crazy this year, but it’s also a group of well-established plants that have probably been growing in this garden for years. I’m just wondering what would happen, if I actually provided them with some nutrient rich compost. They would probably take over the garden overnight. Charlotte is busy in the kitchen, and we’re eating wonderful jam on everything.

Now that the rainy period is over, I can sow even more seeds. It’s time for Legumes and Brassicas, according to my crop rotation plan. Then more mowing, rotovating and sowing, before I can enjoy a cold apple juice in the shade.

Did you harvest already, and where is your garden located?

A Few Thoughts About Keeping Hens

This year the summer is buzzing with – in addition to sun and heat – chickens! Thomas has built the finest hen house a couple of years ago that we finally this year will be able to fill up with residents.

Since I have have been looking forward to having chickens in the garden for the last couple of years, I have had time to explore the market a bit.

A hen is no longer just a hen, I found out.

Through many years of breeding they are available in many different shapes, colors and sizes, some are good at flying and others are not as good. Some are good at laying eggs, and others are typically used as meat chickens.

In the wild the hens live in small flocks of between 5 and 10 hens and 1 or 2 roosters and the small chicks of the flock. A ‘pecking order’ exists, which means that there is a clear hierarchy. The rooster is at the top, and under him the individual hens and the chicks at the bottom.

It also means that if there are too many chickens in a flock, they must constantly fight for their rank in the hierarchy, since they can not keep track of all the hens in the flock.

Okay then. I have to start discovering our needs.

Our chickens must be ‘pet’ and ‘utility’ hens. Those that create life in the garden and a kind that can be tamed. In addition, they must provide us with compost and a few eggs every now and then, but they’ll probably not end up – in the cooking pot…

I have no previous experience with chickens, except from my aunt and uncle’s former chicken run, on their farm. They chose the ‘ISA Brown’ kind:

ISA Brown hen
Photo by normanack.

The obvious choice of hen if you want plenty of eggs… A lot of eggs! It is the kind of chicken they use in the industry which are bred to lay eggs. Like several other chicken breeds, they cannot hatch out chickens themselves because it is bred out of them, for practical reasons…

It is not going to be that kind – although we’re probably not getting a rooster – at least not in the beginning (because I want to maintain good neighborly relations). I like the idea that we actually have the opportunity to have the garden filled with small chirping chicks which their mother hen nurture and care for, as well as the fact that the breed has retained some natural contact with the life of ‘being a hen’.

My first choice was Orpington, a large hen, which should be calm and easy to tame:

Orpington hen
Photo by Elias Gayles.

It knows how to hatch out chickens and is a poor flier. The latter is an advantage since the fence doesn’t need to be that high then (who says it all have to be THAT close to nature… 😉 ) Also, I hope that the cat is going to respect it, in virtue of its size, so that both parties can walk peacefully together on the lawn. It works out well in many places – that’s what I’ve have read. But no one has used the Freja cat for testing before – so who knows if it is going to work out well with our little predator cat… If they cannot agree, they have to be content with saying hello to each other through the wire mesh of the chicken run.
As an alternative to Orpington I have thought about Wyandotte, Plymouth Rock,

Wyandotte hen
Photo by normanack.

Plymouth Rock hen
Photo by Thomas Kriese.

or Sussex, which are large too and reportedly sociable chickens, that can both lay eggs and also taste good (if you’re into that… 😉 )

Sussex rooster
Photo by normanack.

Still, I’m doubtful… After I read the line: “First, determine which breed of chickens you want and build the chicken coop from that.” After once again having looked at our relatively small chicken coop and the fact that Orpington hens weigh 3.5 kg (7.7 lbs) (4.5 kg (9.9 lbs) if you are a rooster), the coop seems a bit small. I think we should have 3 – 4 hens. It will be natural also to have a rooster, but I opted out as mentioned, since I don’t know if the neighbors (and we) expect crowing from early morning… To remedy this you can isolate the chicken coop and leave the chickens in the coop until after sunrise. So it’s a future option, but in the beginning it will probably only be 3 – 4 ladies who will take over the chicken coop.

The large breeds of chickens are also available as bantams, which instead of 3 – 4 kg weighs approximately 1 kg (2.2 lbs).
It would perhaps be a more obvious choice considering the size of the chicken coop.
The disadvantage of choosing these is that they are better fliers and thus require a higher fence, and that the large hens in general should be more calm and easier to tame, criteria that are heavily weighted in this house 🙂
Because the larger hens are poor fliers, they will also sometimes be able to walk freely on the lawn and beds and eat weed seedlings, snails, etc.
Large hens generate more compost, and that is something especially Thomas likes 🙂
So when weighing the options I have to realize that soon there will be 3 giants strutting around the small chicken coop and future associated chicken run. After all, the coop is not that small 😉

Crop Rotation

Crop Rotation Definition

The practice of growing different crops after each other in the same area mainly to preserve the productive capacity of the soil.

Different plants have different needs that have to be satisfied by the soil in order to get healthy vegetables. If the same type of crop is grown on the same area of soil year after year, the soil will be depleted of certain nutrients, and the plants will suffer and be weak.

Crop Rotation Benefits

  • Maintains and improves soil fertility
  • Prevents build up of pests, weeds and soil diseases
  • Reduces the need for adding fertilizers
  • There is no need to let ares lie fallow
  • The spreading of pests is slowed down
  • Better yield
  • More diverse garden work routine
  • Increased biological activity

Some plants even add nutrients to the soil, like for instance nitrogen. The survival of pests and diseases is less likely when the host is suddenly gone off to another area, and the bad guys are left behind. Brassicas are more likely to get attacked by clubroot and potatoes by nematodes, when the same patch of soil is used year after year for the same type of vegetable.

Disadvantages of Crop Rotation

  • More planning at the desk means less time in the garden
  • Areas with shade moves to a new place each year
  • Trellises and supports have to be moved each year

You do have to put in more work though, because a log should be kept of what went where, since it can be hard to remember it all. That the garden is more alive and dynamic because of crop rotation means that plant support structures will be on the move too, which again means more work.

Crop Rotation Chart

This is an example of 4 year crop rotation plan. Year 5 is only included to illustrate that the cycle is repeated after 4 years since year 1 and year 5 is the same:

Crop Rotation Chart

Vegetable Crop Rotation

These are common vegetables that would be interesting to grow in a kitchen garden. There are different vegetables in each group except for potatoes, which is one large homogeneous group.

  • Potatoes
  • Roots: Beetroot, carrot, chard, onion, parsnip, salsify
  • Miscellaneous: Basil, celery, chives, cucumber, leek, lettuce, maize, parsley, pumpkin, spinach, tomato, zucchini
  • Legumes and brassicas: Bean, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, pea, radish, rucola

Overall the garden is more alive with crop rotation, when things are constantly moving around. Movement means life.

Sources:

  1. Merriam-Webster.com
  2. The Self-Sufficient Gardener – John Seymour
  3. Agriinfo.in
  4. Wikipedia.org
  5. www.wiso.boku.ac.at
  6. TutorVista.com
  7. MeritNation.com
  8. eHow.com

 

Weatherproofing the Chicken Coop

My finished chicken coop looked really nice when painted and set up in the back of my previous garden back in 2010.

In order to save time and paint I only painted the coop on the outside, and left the wood untreated on the inside, which should also provide a more natural environment for the hens.

In the meantime I have moved to a new property twice, stubbornly taking my precious chicken coop project with me. It’s much easier to move when all the plywood sheets are removed. Again, it’s easier to see the raw wood on the inside.

I assumed that the climate inside the coop would be mild enough to keep the untreated wood in good condition, but this was not at all the case. In fact, the frame started to rot, especially around the window.

On top of that I have removed three new wasps’ nests in the making. I think they absolute loved the mild climate and fresh wood inside the chicken coop roof… sigh…

Now that the coop was dismantled anyway due to moving between houses it was easy to go over the frame with rough sandpaper and soak the frame and sheets in primer. Fortunately there was much more paint left in the bucket so after many long nights during the winter the coop is now in great condition on the inside too.

Hopefully the degeneration of the wood has stopped, and the wasps will dislike the paint – it’s not that practical to have a wasp’s nest inside the coop 😉

As a new addition an extra perch was added at the same height as the original one, since the Chicken Department Manager (a.k.a. my girlfriend) is worried that we can’t fit three fat chickens on one perch. The new one is placed over the door so maybe we’ll need an extra tray on the floor for collecting, um, composting materials 😉

It’s still surprisingly cold here so we’re waiting for the soil to defrost in order to build the chicken run. We need to drive several poles into the ground but it’s a bit difficult when it’s all frozen… (something about hot weather in Greenland, greenhouse effect, North Atlantic Oscillation yada yada it’s still frekkin’ cold)

But beautiful it is:

Crop Rotation Plan

This picture was taken a week ago, and everything looks quiet and peaceful in the kitchen garden. Only footprints of wild animals passing by in the snow indicates that there is some activity going on although everything is frozen rock solid.

There is not much to do in the garden at the moment besides cleaning up, if this wasn’t done already before the snow and frost arrived, but don’t be fooled – kitchen gardening activities need to be running full steam indoors when the outdoor activities have ended for the season.

Continuing the work I wrote about in my most recent blog post I’m adding more details to my garden plan and introducing crop rotation. Below is my plan with added colors – brown, red, orange and yellow to symbolize a 4 year crop rotation plan. The purpose of crop rotation is to minimize disease build up in the soil, and to replenish it and keep it healthy. If you grow the same type of vegetable in the same spot year after year, soon the plants will starve since particular nutrients will get used up. Keep the soil healthy and you’ll get healthy plants. It really is that simple.

Blue and purple colors indicate beds that will be left out of the rotation plan. Blue is a bed full of established rhubarbs, that I forgot were in that particular bed, and I want them to stay there. Purple are beds that are a bit cut off from the rest of the garden, and I’ll use them for fruit bushes, like black currant, blueberries, red currant etc.

The total bed size of each crop group is approximately the same, and bed number 13 was added to the yellow group to get a normal sized group, instead of using the bed for fruit bushes like bed number 15 and 16.

Before I group the plants I need to decide what I want to grow. This is the list for 2013, a list that I have made addition to each year since I started kitchen gardening (and I even forgot strawberries 😉 ) :

Index English name Latin name Variety
1 Basil Ocimum basilicum Thai Magic
2 Bean Vicia faba Broad, Hangdown grünkernig
3 Bean Phaseolus vulgaris Bush, Yellow, Helios
4 Bean Phaseolus vulgaris Runner, Neckarkönigin
5 Bean Phaseolus vulgaris Runner, Preisgewinner
6 Beetroot, long Beta vulgaris Forono
7 Beetroot, round Beta vulgaris Ägyptische plattrunde
8 Broccoli Brassica oleracea Calabrese
9 Cabbage Capitata var. alba L. White, Türkis
10 Carrot Daucus carota ssp. sativus Summer, Nantaise 2
11 Carrot Daucus carota ssp. sativus Summer, Nantes 2
12 Carrot Daucus carota ssp. sativus Winter, Rodelika
13 Cauliflower Brassica oleracea White Rock
14 Celery Apium graveolens var. dulce Ortho
15 Chard Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla Green, Glatte Silber, Silverbeet
16 Chard Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla Green, Groene Gewone
17 Chard Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla Red, Rhubarb Chard
18 Chives Allium schoenoprasum Staro
19 Cucumber Cucumis sativus Tanja
20 Kale Brassica oleracea Acephala Westländer Winter
21 Leek Allium porrum Blaugrüner Winter
22 Leek Allium porrum Summer, Hilari
23 Lettuce Lactuca sativa Leaf
24 Lettuce Lactuca sativa Leaf, Till
25 Maize Zea mays subsp. mays L. Golden Bantam
26 Onion Allium cepa Kepa, Sturon
27 Onion Allium cepa Red, Robelja
28 Parsley Petroselinum crispum
29 Parsnip Pastinaca sativa Halblange Weise
30 Pea Pisum sativum Margert
31 Potato Solanum tuberosum Sava
32 Pumpkin Cucurbita maxima Hokaido, orange, Red Kuri
33 Radish Raphanus sativus Cherry Belle
34 Rucola Eruca sativa
35 Salsify Scorzonera hispanica
36 Spinach Spinacia oleracea Butterfly
37 Tomato Solanum lycopersicum Black Cherry
38 Zucchini Cucurbita Pepo

I have cucumbers and tomatoes out in the open this year, as opposed to growing them in self-watering boxes near the house. Well, I might sneak in a comparison experiment to see what works best.

All of the vegetables on the list is then divided into these four groups:

  1. Potatoes
  2. Roots
  3. Miscellaneous
  4. Legumes and brassicas

Wikipedia can be used to find out if a crop is in group 4 or not.

The plan reveals that it’s actually only a few months of the year where your hands are clean and not full of dirt, but this period is used for drooling all over the new seed catalog, if you’re not at the local nursery or DIY store looking at new sweet tools.

Garden Layout Software

Trimble SketchUp (formerly Google SketchUp) is a free software tool, which is great for garden planning. I have some things on my kitchen garden plot, that cannot easily be moved, like old fruit trees, a large concrete bed and a concrete composting tube. If it hadn’t been for these locked objects it would be really simple to create a layout, but with SketchUp you can quickly try out different ideas on how to work around the objects to get the most room for garden beds. For each object you put onto the screen you input the actual 1:1 dimensions, like for instance the base size of your plot and the actual size of each bed. Then you can start filling in beds until you run out of space.

This is how my layout is going to be in 2013:

There are 12 beds, preferably raised beds, a concrete bed, and different fruit trees and bushes. Each bed is 1.00 m wide (3.3 ft).

SketchUp has a cool feature where you can read out every length you need, for example the length of each bed:

I want each bed to be as long as possible to get the largest area for growing as possible but here I’m limited by trees. You can use the Dimensions tool on every length in your layout that you could have an interest in knowing.

I have measured the lengths of all the 12 beds and now I’m ready to create a sowing and crop rotation plan.

The software program is available here: Trimble SketchUp

Composting Scraps From Scratch

I’ve been busy emptying the old composting tube in the corner of the garden. It had been filled up with all sorts of garden waste throughout the years, and the resulting product actually looked like good quality humus. I wouldn’t use it in my vegetable beds though, since I’m rather picky about what goes into my soil and thereby into the vegetables and fruit, and finally into my body. Therefore I just spread the contents of the old concrete composting tube on spaces I plan on using for walking aisles.

I found lots of eggshells in there, and even plastic bags, so I just want to be sure that it’s only healthy stuff that ends up in the compost. Nothing wrong with eggshells though, but generally the challenge with composting is that you have to get a high enough temperature to burn down all the bad stuff, and this takes some knowledge and practice. Looking at the condition of the kitchen garden I do not assume that the previous renters were into gardening and composting, therefore I’m starting a new pile from scratch. Not to say that I know enough about composting to make it work perfectly, but I’m very keen on getting the loads of kitchen scraps out of the expensive household garbage can out front. Besides it should be very healthy to know what goes into your vegetables – that’s one of the big reasons why we wrestle with this gardening thing, right? 😉 (besides getting a good workout and save some sweet moolah $ 😀 )

The trick to composting is to mix three components, namely greens, browns, and manure. If done correctly you can make the worlds best compost in a short amount of time, but it’s hard to do for the average kitchen gardener, since you need large areas and access to all three components all at once in relatively large quantities. If you have that then yes, you can work wonders. If not, you might want to consider getting a compost tumbler.


Photo by James Emery.

When the composting process is working it happens because all three components are in contact with each other. The activity in the pile is at maximum, the materials are broken down, and the temperature is high. Out comes the best compost.

The smart thing about a compost tumbler is that it allows the different materials to come into contact when you turn it, compared to a static pile where you add materials on top, like for instance three layers of grass clippings but no brown leaves in between.

The tumbler has a size limitation though, which makes it difficult to cover an entire self-sufficient kitchen garden with enough compost, or at least very expensive, if you need to go and buy a large number of tumblers to take advantage of all the waste your garden is producing. That’s why I’m building several composting ‘boxes’ and turning them over every now and then in order to mix the materials. Just make sure to cut everything into small pieces before throwing it on the pile, with a maximum length of for example 5 cm (2 inch) so that the turning can be done easily later on.

New 2012 Kitchen Garden Clean Up

Here’s a couple of videos from my 2012 garden makeover. It’s just great to have a patch of soil again, but there’s work to it. These are before-and-after videos – I removed a lot of random bushes and plants to make room for vegetable beds:

Actually, the before-video don’t show the tall grass and snakes which was the original starting point, but compared to this next video you can see that I have been busy:

Now it’s easier to see the new possibilities and get a feel for the best layout. I spent an hour during one of the last summer days to make a sketch of the kitchen garden patch and take measurements of all the settled things, like old tall fruit trees, shed and concrete bed, and where they where located relative to each other. With all these distance measurements on paper I can make a precise layout drawing on my computer and start drawing each future bed.

Easy on the Cherries Blackbird

Photo by Chris. P.

The blackbirds tricked me this year. I had been watching the cherries grow more juicier each day, and after several weeks they looked like something taken right out of a Disney movie. Big, fat, dark red juicy perfect shaped wonders of nature.

Well, I wasn’t the only one who had been watching.

What do blackbirds actually do all day? If they’re not feeding their offspring, what do they do? I’m sure they sit and stare at the fruits in my fruit trees, waiting, perhaps taking a nap for five minutes, stare some more, wait, zzz… I can’t compete with that, I also have to save the world and all that.

It took the blackbirds 1.5 days at most to strip a 3 m (10 feet) high cherry tree completely of all its berries, which is totally ridiculous. The only positive thing about it that I can think of is that the stones are spread to a large area through the birds droppings, but then again, I think that fruit trees are usually grafted onto a robust root that has adapted to local conditions. It means that the small trees that will come from the seeds will not always survive and produce fruit themselves.

The solution to this, if you want to eat your own fruit yourself? Nets. Large nets with small masks, covering the whole tree or shrub. Or cages, with chicken wire mesh mounted on a wooden frame. That will keep the birds out – just remove the cages or nets whenever you are ready to get a healthy shot of vitamins and save money for the next trip to the nursery, by growing your own fruit.


Photo by quisnovus.

Feeding Those in Need – How Do Charities Store And Deliver Food?

In areas of the world which have been affected by natural disasters, extreme poverty, droughts, wars and other circumstances, people are at risk of starvation due to lack of food and water. There are many international charities who strive to bring medical aid, water and food delivery to these struggling communities. With their help, people are able to survive and recover from the disaster.


Photo by isafmedia.

Transporting such an enormous amount of food thousands of miles at merely a moment’s notice, usually into some of the most inhospitable places in the world, is no easy feat. How in the world do these charities do it?

Case Study – The World Food Programme


Photo by IK’s World Trip.

In order to understand how charities get food delivery to people in need, we will look at one particular organisation as an example. Any other food charity will work in a very similar way so this is a helpful way of understanding how the process works.

An example of a charity which gives food to the needy all over the world is the World Food Programme. This is a United Nations frontline agency which has been created to help with the problem of world hunger. One in every seven people on the planet is affected by global hunger and the WFP delivers food to save the victims of natural disasters, war and civil conflict. After the emergency, this organisation comes in to help the community rebuild and recover.

There are many charities similar to this one that also offers food delivery to needy regions of the world in the wake of any catastrophe which threatens the local food supply.

How is the Food Delivered?

So how does the WFP get all of the food to the hungry poor?

The main form of food delivery which WFP uses is ocean transport with 90% of its food is moved by ships.  However this simply gets it to the nearest coastline. Often the communities that need food are thousands of miles inland, so the next step is to develop a line of delivery which makes the most logical route through the deserts, mountains, rivers and other obstacles around the way.

Often charities will have to transport food through areas where there are no roads or bridges and sometimes they build these roads and bridges along the way. They can also bring food delivery by aircraft, arranging air drops in the affected location.

Once there is a clear path to the affected area which the supplies can be carried along, the charity will use any means available to transport the goods. In the past this can included trucks, trains, canoes, planes, helicopters and even more primate forms of transport such as yaks, donkeys and elephants.

The food delivery which is transported into these impoverished regions destroyed by war or natural disaster has to be non-perishable because it will not be refrigerated if it is being carried on the back of a donkey. The typical types of foods that charities send to these locations include grains such as rice, wheat and maize as well as beans, peas, vegetable oil, salt, sugar, cereal, biscuits and bread. These are all carbohydrates which will give people lots of energy and last a long time without refrigeration.

After making it over mountains, rivers, deserts and jungles, the food delivery finally reaches its recipients, saving their lives and giving them the nutrients that they need so that they can recover their community.

This is not the only charity which provides food to people in need. There are many similar relief organisations which deliver food, clothing, medical care and shelter to suffering communities, such as Operation Blessing, the Red Cross and World Vision.


Photo by Dan.

Food delivery is very important in times of crisis and it can make the difference between life and death. The logistics of providing food to remote and poor locations is sometimes an incredible challenge, but these charities make it their job to find a way.


Author Bio

Charlotte Rivington loves blogging about lovely Foods and Drink covering topics from delicious recipes to milk&more grocery. She also loves to shop, keep fit and eating healthily.