Tuesday 15 February 2011

Back to Basics


I had a horrible shock today. I knew I was late making my order for seed potatoes but when I arrived at alanromans.com it was too late for several of the varieties I had hoped to buy; sold out. Paul managed to track down his favourite Ambo on Tucker's Seeds and also some BF15 so it wasn't entirely a disaster, we haven't been able to get those for ages, but still a wake up call. Time is passing and nothing is happening here.

So I thought I'd better try and re-orient myself into the right mind set. Taking out the old Complete Book of Self Sufficiency by John Seymour (now in a newer edition than my copy, first published in 1976), I settled down to read all about it, again.

It strikes me that this is something that will repay reading, even now. I thought I knew the book back to front, had taken everything from it that I could but now see new information, different nuggets of wisdom and enduring advice that seems absolutely in tune with the principles that I hold dear.

It was by no means the first book on self sufficiency I tried but it was comprehensive and well presented, a one stop manual that was very welcome and I took what I needed from it, ignoring some aspects altogether. Since then there have been many more books, television programmes, internet articles and blogs and I have changed too. It seemed to have been superseded. Coming back to it again after 10 years break I find I'm looking for new insights and the book doesn't fail me. They were here all along. A wonderful smallholder's manual, timeless.

I'm going to look more closely at his advice for grain growing. Having failed spectacularly with crops from foreign parts it seems more sensible to learn to grow some local staples well, and when I can do that, start to preserve and extend the old varieties of them.

Some of the seeds planted in January have come up. Bedfordshire Champion onion seedling in modules are looking o.k. with little damping off and there's a healthy pot of globe artichokes ready for pricking out soon.

This year I'm hoping we'll have a greenhouse which means tomatoes and chilli peppers will have a longer, more productive season. Those seeds need to be started soon.

That naughty cat will be pleased (and so will his brother and sister) when we get back to France. They've just about exhausted the mouse supply around here.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

A time of lists


I planted some seeds about a week ago. They haven't come up yet. This is hardly surprising but I'm all for instant gratification. The quickest way to get a plant fix is to buy some.

Although these scented cyclamen are very pretty they are grown by the trade in vast quantities as disposable ornaments. That said, I've managed to keep the odd plant for a few years in the cool of the kitchen window sill. They are tenacious little beasts and make up for their untidiness with a touching effort of new flowers each winter. Sadly they're not hardy enough to grow outside, the hardy species aren't as brightly coloured or as nicely perfumed.

The weather (and my location) still impedes progress with the vegetable patches for the time being. All I can do is plan and make lists. I have lists of seeds still to buy, a list of seed potatoes that really needs some action, a list of calls to make for help with the garden in Newport Pagnell which has degenerated into an amenity site landscape in just a few months. Any volunteers for that? And I also need to make a list for these plants.

fruit plants

For my birthday last year I was given money towards starting a fruit garden. I ordered a whole regiment of plants from Buckingham Nurseries in November. Unfortunately, the rotten winter slowed everything down and the plants didn't arrive here until after I'd left for France. So they've had to be potted up for now, not ideal and much more difficult to transport when the time comes but at least they shouldn't suffer too much of a check when they're planted out.

The trouble is that I shall forget the varieties almost immediately and my documentation skills aren't great so I'm going to list them here for safekeeping.

5 Strawberry, Cambridge Favourite
5 Strawberry, Aromel
1 Blueberry, Herbert pot grown to add to the one already in place
1 Kiwi Fruit, Jenny (Chinese Gooseberry) I'm hoping this will fertilise the Hayward
2 Elaeagnus ebbingei 8-12ins pot grown the start of the Forest garden...
1 Blackcurrant, Wellington XXX
1 Blackcurrant, Ben Connan
1 Raspberry, Autumn Bliss (Pack of 5)
1 Raspberry, Octavia (Pack of 5)
1 Raspberry, Polka (Pack of 5)
1 Gooseberry, Hinnomaki Yellow
1 Gooseberry, Whinham's Industry
1 Red Currant, Redstart - 2 year
1 White Currant, White Versailles
1 Tayberry, Buckingham

Now all I need to do is make a list of deer fencing.