Sunday, August 14, 2011

Seed saving

There are many reasons why people choose to grow their own fruit and veg. Some for the fresh air and exercise, some to ensure they know exactly what they're eating and how it's been produced and some to reduce the environmental impact of food production on our environment. Many people choose to grow their own fruit and veg out of a desire to save money. Obviously, buying a packet of seeds is much cheaper than purchasing the end result veg from your local supermarket, but imagine if you could get the seeds for free as well?
I've slowly come around to the idea of seed saving around the veg plot. It seemed a bit of a hassle at  first but you just need to start with the easy stuff.
My focus is usually on large seeds - peas, mange tout, broad beans, etc. The mange tout seeds are usually saved by accident rather than design - if I haven't picked frequently enough then  there will be some plump pods hanging around. I take these off and leave them in the sunny greenhouse to dry out, crossing my fingers that the pea moth hasn't visited already. The last few broad bean pods go the same way once they've dried out a bit on the plant.

I've saved parsnip seeds for the first time this year from a parsnip I left to flower for the hoverflies. I left the resulting seed head for as long as I could outside - and then once the seeds started to drop off I cut it down and stored them in a paper bag.

And even flowers - I've been growing tagetes alongside my tomatoes for a couple of years now and noticed that as the tagetes died and dried, the centre of the flower was full of little needle-shaped seeds - looking like a tiny quiver full of arrows.
Nasturtium seeds are probably one of the easiest flower seeds to save as they're so big. I pull them off the plant once they've swelled up but often they'll simply fall to the soil and I collect them from there.

And I've been collecting seeds from the fried egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii) to plant again next spring. Once the flowers have died you can see the seeds (4 or 5) in the bottom of the calyx. Wait until they start to turn brown and then gently push them out.

The list is pretty endless in my garden - poppies, carrots, onion, leek, tomato, squash, aquilegia, sweet peas, sunflowers, chillies, melons, runner beans, sugar snaps...

What are your favourite seeds to save each year?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

New kids on the block

Following the recent demise of Myrtle, Chicken Licken was left bereft, though still laying a consistent egg a day 14-months post-battery farm. We were quickly onto the website of the British Hen Welfare Trust  and found a rescue and rehoming day planned for the following weekend. Despite feeling slightly guilty that Myrtle's roosting bar was not yet cold, we headed off across Herts and Essex to bring home 2 new girls to keep Chicken Licken company. Welcome home Ruby and Scholes!
So far Chicken Licken has shown her dominance with some vicious pecks and feather tugging to the heads and necks of the newbies as well as trying to mount them like a cockerel. She was consigned to a night in a pet carrier on the kitchen floor on the first night as she refused to allow them into the coop with her. The second night, the same thing happened so we shut the newbies up in the coop and she had to sleep in the covered run outside. Finally on the third night, with only a few tussles and squabbling, all three settled down in the coop together. So, it's very exciting to be getting 3 eggs a day again (even if one of them is laid behind a fern plant) and the suburban veg plot is complete once more.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Making comfrey tea

Back in March 2010 I established a comfrey patch in the suburban veg plot. It established itself well (despite the variable summer) and I followed the advice not to cut from it in its first season to allow it to establish well. Come spring 2011, it reappeared as promised and grew strongly, taking advantage of the plentiful nutrients coming out the back of the compost heap. However, my access to said comfrey was not so easy as I imagined. Blocking my way to the comfrey from early spring was a bramble stem so thick and strong you could have swung around on it like Tarzan. Albeit it Tarzan wearing a pair of heavy duty thorn-proof gauntlets, but you know what I mean. And even once you got past the bramble, which, by the way, grew faster than a courgette on steroids, there was the virtually impenetrable barrier created by the basal shoots of the laurel hedge to contend with. Now, I do have the tools to deal with the vegetation, but then we got the are-ay-tea invasion. Eeeugh! With their long snakey tails and their beady eyes, they took up residence in the compost heap creating an entrance burrow at the rear, right through my comfrey patch. Anyway, now that we have a new - and more importantly rat-proof - composter, full access to the comfrey patch has been restored.

Aside from using comfrey leaves as a compost activator, a mulch and as a direct feed in the bottom of planting holes/trenches, it can be used to make a 'tea' liquid feed for any veg or fruit plant you grow.  So, to make your comfrey tea - first harvest your comfrey. Leaves and stem can both be used. I would recommend the use of gloves for this as comfrey has small hairs on both leaves and stem that can irritate the skin.

There are various vessels you can employ for stewing comfrey tea. I've gone for the small but perfectly formed 2-pint milk container.
I'd definitely recommend a method that has the brew closed in, rather than left open - the smell is absolutely rank.
Stuff said container with as much comfrey as you can possibly cram in.

Fill container with water and replace the lid. Leave for 5-6 weeks to brew - date the bottle to help you keep track. The decomposition of the comfrey in the water may give off gases which could build up in the container. The beauty of the milk container is that the cap usually allows most of these to escape as it's not the tightest fit. If you use a squash or fizzy water bottle then these caps usually fit very tight and so you might need to release any built-up gases every week or so.
Your resulting tea needs diluting down with water before using on plants (1:10 tea to water is usually recommended). Once you've got the hang of this, you may never need to buy liquid plant feed again.