12 September 2008

Organic potatoes and a rooster

It's official. Meet Seth! Hanno said he saw him engaging in some hanky panky with the girls, so it looks like we've got ourselves a light Sussex rooster. Bec, when should I expect Seth to start crowing?

This is one of our young Australorp hens, Mary.

We have never bred chicks before so I'd better start reading something about it. As many of you know our attempts at trying to hatch fertile eggs last Christmas was a disaster. I hope Seth protects his girls well. He is a big strapping boy so I think he would be a capable lad. We have no light Sussex hens but we do have three silver Sussex - Pippa, Poppy and Mrs Rudd, and one buff Sussex - Margaret. I have no idea about the genetics of chooks and how the colours work out, but it will be interesting finding out and a pleasure to add another skill to those that help us live as independently as possible.

Here is my lovely hen Margaret, doing what chooks all round the world do.

And just one last chook photo. ;- ) This is Lulubelle, a barred Plymouth Rock.

More work was done in the garden yesterday. This is always a busy time of year for Hanno as he pulls out old crops, digs up potatoes and plans for the coming season. The weather is perfect at the moment so I know he will try to get as much of the heavy work done as he can before the onset of the hot and humid weather.

You can take a lot of the hard work out of vegetable gardening if you plan well. Getting all the plants in and the maintenance work like weeding and mulching finished before the hot weather, makes it a more pleasant activity. If Hanno can get all that digging, planting, weeding and mulching out of the way, all we need to do in the hotter months is to water, fertilise and harvest. Generally the mulch keeps the weeds at bay while it keeps the moisture in the soil and helps keep the soil temperature constant. You get much healthier root structure under mulch and your vegetables will be better for it.

The bare garden bed in the background is the old potato bed. Now it will be planted with all sorts of summer vegetables.

The most important thing in a vegetable garden though is to build up your soil. Mulch helps with that as well because it breaks down over time and adds organic matter to the soil. That will bring in the worms too. Forget about all those expensive chemical fertilisers. You will get by well enough with straw or hay, a compost heap or a worm farm and a big clump of comfrey. If you have chooks too, that's the icing on the cake because their old nests and the spent straw on the floor, enriched with their poo, will help you make the best compost. If you have an indoor fire where you burn only hardwood, those ashes can also be added to your compost. If you can add lots of compost to your garden every year, in between each planting season, over time you will build up a rich organic soil that will give you fresh wholesome vegetables year upon year. Don't expect great results the first year you garden but if you add to your soil, your garden and the vegetables it produces will improve every year.

Potatoes are one of the easiest of all crops to grow. They need a deep rich soil and a moderate amount of water. The photo above shows some of the dutch creams / nicola potatoes Hanno dug up yesterday. From that small garden bed he harvested over 19 kilos - 42 pounds of very good quality, large organic potatoes. There were a few smaller ones that did not have time to grow to full size, they will be used as our seed potatoes for the crop we will plant next week. Start off with good quality certified seed potatoes, but if you can't get them buy organic potatoes from your green grocer. We use new organic seeds when we can find them, but also organic potatoes from the store and our own small potatoes as seeds and we've never had a problem doing that.

These are the next seeds to be planted. I'll plant these luffas along the lattice, the nasturtiums will be popped in with the vegetables and the giant Russian sunflowers will be grown for the chooks and the wild parrots. I always plant flowers in the vegetable patch. Not only does it bring in the bees to pollinate the vegetable and fruit flowers, it adds beauty to the garden.

And lastly, here is a photo of newly born rats from our compost heap. If you live in an area where there is a lot of wildlife, you need to monitor your compost. It's warm in there and there is food for all sorts of critters. Make sure you don't have any small surprises like these, because they will bring snakes and all sorts of hygiene problems.

Happy gardening to all of you starting your Spring gardens.

ADDIT: For all those backyarders in the UK, Pebbledash has told me about her 18 year old nephew, Ben, who is making these absolutely beautiful chook tractors/hen houses. You can check out his site here.

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