About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Garden review and planning

You may think it's a bit late in the year to be looking back over how the garden fared last year and thinking about what I'll be doing next year, and indeed it is, but the short version of my review/plan goes something like this: Yep, same again next year but more and better, so I didn't need to look at the details before getting started on this year's growing. On the other hand, having got quite anxious about the productivity of the garden, the least I can do is review it properly.

I did keep records throughout the year - here they are:

Detailed notes on yields

As I brought veg into the kitchen, I weighed it and noted down how much I had on that A4 envelope. At least, I did most of the time. The totals will be a slight underestimate because I forgot sometimes. Anyway, I've now transferred all that information my spreadsheet, so here it is, a summary of everything I grew in the garden last year:
  • Garlic: Fell over. Didn't weigh it, but there was some.
  • Leeks: 4 lb 1 oz. Ran out far too soon - need more!
  • Onions: 1 lb 10 oz and the rest are sets. Onions grown from seed take two years to reach a useful weight, apparently
  • Welsh onion: All eaten by slugs
  • Brocolli: 12 oz and counting, but not expecting much more. Very thin shoots - feed it better next year
  • Red cabbage: 3 lb 10 oz. Of the six I planted out, only three formed heads and two of those were rather small. Twice as many next year.
  • Turnips: Mostly slug eaten and very small. Didn't bother harvesting. Only grew them because I had free seeds.
  • Broad beans: 1 lb 8 oz. Lots of empty pods. I think it was just a bad year for broad beans.
  • Peas: 7 lb 15 oz. A great success, but ran out of frozen peas in mid Jan. Need more!
  • Runner beans: 5 lb 11 oz. Pretty much spot on. Weren't as good frozen, so not worth growing more than that.
  • Squash: Failed miserably in greenhouse. Pumpkins and courgettes made it to the garden before getting eaten by slugs, so I'll try again next year with better slug protection.
  • Sunflowers: Smaller than expected. Didn't need that much space. Didn't get round to harvesting. Will try again, planting closer.
  • Potatoes: 122 lb. Excellent harvest but ran out/sprouted by mid Feb. Hope to get more this year and store with apples/make more chips
  • Tomatoes: 4 lb 5 oz: Disappointing. Move some to greenhouse, be more vigilant on the side shoots, and hope for better weather.
  • Aubergine: Failed miserably in greenhouse. Won't bother again.
  • Carrots: 6 lb 8 oz. What a pain these were! Will try alternative methods of deterring carrot fly.
  • Celery: 1 lb 5 oz. Very thin stalks, but still worth having. Surprisingly resilient in frost. Try feeding better next year.
  • Fennel: All slug eaten. Try again, with better slug protection.
  • Parsnips: 1 lb 14 oz. Nowhere near enough. Grow more of them!

I have to say, this has been pretty successful. Even the carrots and tomatoes, which were very disappointing, managed to produce several pounds each. Furthermore, I've more-or-less had veg available in the garden continuously since I started harvesting new potatoes in early June. There hasn't been a great abundance, but something available to harvest once or twice a week (much more in late summer), every week. This does depend on counting the wild veg (ground elder etc.) in early spring, but increasing the quantity of leeks and parsnips will help there. Similarly the quantity of broccoli has been disappointing, but the quality is outstanding - it's the best broccoli I've ever tasted! If I can grow more of these winter veg then hopefully I'll have a continuous supply, eventually supplemented by asparagus in May, right through the year. That would make me very happy.

That's it, really. Those notes there are my plan for this year, pretty much. The only other thing I have to think about is where to put them all, and that should be fairly straightforward as I intend to follow crop rotation principles. I looked this up and found many confusing variations on how to do crop rotation, but ended up with the following plan:
  • Potatoes follow peas and beans
  • Peas and beans follow onions and carrots
  • Onions and carrots follow brassicas
  • Brassicas follow potatoes
I then tried applying this to the garden and realised that crop rotation requires each group to take up roughly the same amount of space. I'm growing a lot of peas and beans, so I just about managed to squeeze the potatoes into the space they occupied last year (though I don't think I'll persuade them to grow up the fence behind the asparagus), but onions and carrots take up far less space, so I needed to find somewhere else for peas and beans this year. Brassicas, although space-hungry, aren't grown in large numbers, at least not in this garden. Last year, to further confuse, I put red cabbages, pumpkin and courgettes in the flower beds. I don't think I want onions and carrots there. This is all getting rather complicated.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that I have three groups:
  • Potatoes
  • Peas and beans
  • Everything else
This means a three year rotation, which isn't great, but it's better than not moving things around at all. Another way of working this out would be to look at what proportion of the garden is taken up by the largest crop. If the spuds take up a third of the available space, that'll be a three year rotation before you've grown spuds in every part of the garden. Of course, I might yet confuse myself further by bringing other parts of the garden into veg-growing use, but not this year.

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