Sweet Red Apples and Big Potatoes

Autumn is here and these are apples from one of our apple trees in the kitchen garden. These are quite sour when they start dropping from the tree but we also have another tree with perfect sweet red apples that are perfect to eat right off the tree.

These, on the other hand, are sour and this year I will find a place to store them in the garage and leave them there until Christmas. At that time they will hopefully be more edible and we can use them as cooking apples.

Two weeks ago the last one of the sweet red apples dropped off the tree. This tree produced so many apples that we could not keep up and eat all of them so below the tree it was filled with wasps going crazy in all these apples.

It would be great to have enough extra room to be able to store all these great apples, or perhaps at least a chest freezer. I don’t know if freezing works well with apples but it is tough to see all these apples go to waste.

The potato crop has been great this year. Most of the potatoes grew really big, much larger than expected in this poor soil. Perhaps the soil is actually getting better although it is not that visible.

This is a potato variety called Ditta, and I didn’t expect them to turn into baking potatoes, so I guess the soil is pumped after all. I didn’t even manage to water this part of the kitchen garden so it is not because of additional water, and the taste is also really good.

Although the soil is still sandy most of the potatoes are quite big. Hopefully the soil will be improved as the years go by so that it will be able to retain more water and not let the nutrients sink through.

These are the red apples from the large apple tree, together with another batch of large potatoes. After a quick rinse to wash the sand off and a quick drying these will go into the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, ready to be prepared.

It is really satisfying and worth all the work when you are able to go out and get batch after batch and bring into the kitchen. This year has been special in the way that there were almost no worms, pests or insects in the apples and also not in the plums.

I don’t know what the reason is for this but it sure is nice to be able to experience this once in a while.

Take a look at this beautiful flower with different shades of orange. These are grown from seeds that I have collected last year for the second year in a row. I don’t know what this kind of flower is called but the next one is Asters.

These survived through the first night of frost. It’s nice to have something attractive for the bees although they are long gone for the year.

I often hear that the bees are in trouble so why not support them by making sure that there are also lots of flowers in the kitchen garden? We need those little creatures to take care of the pollination in our garden so that we can get fruits and vegetables on our plates.

Like for instance these bad boys:

Well, actually they are not that impressive in size but since it is the first year that I have grown these I’m happy to see that the Hokkaido plant produced something, no matter what size it was. Thank you, bees!

I believe that the soil has been too poor and depleted and therefore couldn’t produce bigger pumpkins or even more pumpkins, which reminds me how important it is to feed the soil so that it can feed the plants. You need to feed the soil with good compost, and it takes time to produce good compost the natural way.

You need to have patience and let nature do its work while you support it the best way that you can. At the same time this is what I love about gardening – you go with the flow and enjoy your garden!

Potatoes from Seed

Potatoes from seed

This picture shows the result of my little experiment with growing potatoes from seed. It is indeed true that it is possible to propagate potatoes by using the fruits from potatoes.

These potato fruits are the results of a natural pollination by insects or the wind. Just like a pollination of tomato plants will result in the development of fruits from the pollinated flowers.

I have seen a YouTube video showing an experiment like this where the guy who were growing the potatoes from seed was using buckets instead. Now I know why 🙂

The resulting micro tubers are really small so if there are any potatoes left in the soil from the previous years then it’s hard to tell the difference between the new small potatoes grown from seed and any small potatoes growing from last year’s crop. I imagine it would be much easier to just empty a bucket and know that there are only small micro tubers in there, if they have been developed.

The good thing about growing the potatoes directly in the garden soil is that there will be a better natural selection since the goal must be to develop a variety that is well adapted to the local garden soil. If you are using store-bought soil in buckets then you might not have as strong a potato variety as you would expect if you will be growing this new variety in the garden soil instead of buckets next year.

You could of course use your garden soil directly in the buckets instead and thereby get a more realistic environment for the seeds to grow in. I think the soil used in the buckets in the video I saw consisted of a mixture of some store-bought soil or growing medium and the actual garden soil, but I think the point is not to give the seeds any advantages that they would not have if they were sown directly in your garden soil.

But again, what is the point of all this? I think it would be nice to have a local potato variety which is extremely resistant to whatever diseases are present in the local environment.

There is no guarantee that this would be the case if you buy a seed potato from far away and plant it in your garden. In fact, why should we expect that our potatoes have any kind of resistance when the seed potatoes have been centralized to the degree that they have been today?

The small plants that grew from all the small seeds I collected last year were almost all of them hit by some disease, so the natural selection and resistance does not come right away by just collecting one round of potato fruits. But it is also worth noting that many of the seeds that I have sown did not result in any plants with or without micro tubers.

So perhaps there already have been some kind of natural selection if many of the seeds just didn’t germinate although they had the same conditions as the rest of the 1,000 seeds. It will be really interesting to see what comes from these micro tubers next year.

Perhaps there will also be a selection taking place during storage through the winter if some of them start losing their energy and some don’t. I have not yet tried to store potatoes through the winter, so this will be a new challenge.

One cool thing about the picture above is that it shows that a couple of red potatoes have survived through pollination and germination. And two of the small micro tubers have a little head so perhaps this is from the same seed and perhaps it is genetic.

The question is, if I should grow these in buckets or just be hardcore and take another round of traditional sewing in rows directly in the garden soil. I should probably be extra careful and clean the soil really well before sowing.

Potatoes from seed

This picture shows the whole bunch when I lifted them from the soil. You can also see in the picture that the soil is still very sandy but supposedly that should be a good thing when you are growing potatoes.

 

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.