Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Hopeful Kitchen Gardener

Panicking about unplanted pumpkins and runner beans with nowhere to run is an annual event in my kitchen garden. Spring-sown plants scream to be released from their pots and I can almost hear the sighs of relief every time I pop one of these poor, desperate specimens into the soil. Although everything needs to be done yesterday and the weeds will be back tomorrow, I am always filled with hope at this time of year because (with the exception of a breakout of peach leaf curl and the ongoing battle with aphids) things have yet to go catastrophically wrong in the kitchen garden.
The prettiest stage of a medlar

There were so many pollinators about in spring that I decided not to flutter around the fruit trees with my pollinating paintbrush pretending to be a bee. Unsurprisingly, the pollinators have done a fine job. Tiny embryonic fruits cluster on the branches of trees. They have yet to suffer the rigours of June drop, wasps and scab, so for the next week or two I shall remain optimistic that this autumn will be fuelled by wall-to-wall pies and crumbles.
Hope of fruit crumble, custard and cream

The hens are clearly heeding the slug and snail warning this year as their pest patrols have been ruthless. Nothing gets in their way. Last week they uprooted part of a mirabelle hedge, three asparagus plants and picked every last one of the developing gooseberries. That's one crumble I won't be enjoying this summer.
Hope of summer pudding

Images of pumpkin plants being released from the prison of their pots and spreading their roots gratefully (if indeed pumpkins feel gratitude) into delicious soil only to be dragged from their moorings by an over-exuberant hen, have led me to protect all of my crops from the chickens and rethink the whole slug control issue. 
Ever hopeful Hyacinth Hen

Fortunately my family are squirrels. That is not to say that they spend their days clinging valiantly to bird feeders and chewing on the little plastic perches, but they could quite happily live off seeds and nuts - particularly pistachios. This is great news in light of the slug and snail invasion forecast. I buy unsalted pistachios and it makes my family happy. I take the shells, scatter them around the brassicas and the slugs and snails do a runner elsewhere (hopefully into the path of a peckish hen). It takes a lot of pistachios to mulch a broccoli bed, then again, if it were left to the chickens, the broccoli would be long gone. 
Hope of pumpkin pie

While tomatoes and potatoes have yet to be blighted and courgette leaves exhibit no sign of mildew, we can remain optimistic for a bumper harvest. Early summer is a time for hope: hope that we won't be pulling pointless micro-celeriac again (what on earth happened to the celeriac last year?); hope that 2016 will be the year of the great butternut glut; and on a personal note, hope that my family's passion for pistachios will never wane.

38 comments:

  1. Sarah, your first paragraph says it all for this time of year, for you and for me in the kitchen garden. Beautifully written; so enjoyed your post. We had chickens years ago and goodness they loved the garden, especially the newly sprouted peas so we finally had to hang netting to keep them out. It is all so beautiful out there right now isn't it, and we must forever remain hopeful. Now...after last nights rain, there is just one pumpkin left to plant out! hooray

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    1. Thank you! I haven't sown peas yet this year, although I am tempted to sow a late crop. Having learnt from your experience, I will make sure that they are protected from the hens. I hope that pumpkin is now in the ground and enjoying its new home!

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  2. I really enjoyed your post Sarah and as Gardeningbren said you have written this beautifully, you held me to the last word. We kept chickens when the children were small and miss their slug patrol, along with the eggs. Pistachio shells sound a very good idea in the meantime, I shall try your tip.

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    1. Thank you! I am so pleased that you enjoyed the post. I hope that the pistachio shells work as well with you as they have here.

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  3. My veggie garden has been pretty much drowned by our spring rains. So far, we've had a few summer squash, some blackberries, and, soon, a few tomatoes. But, other than that, it is not looking hopeful.

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    1. That is such a shame, Dorothy. Will the season be long enough to get in a late sowing?

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  4. Ha ha you make me giggle. Ever the optimistic, I'm so jealous you have some hens x

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    1. Despite the damage, I wouldn't want to be without my hens. They follow me around the garden and make me feel loved. What do you mean, they are only after the food?

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  5. Hello Sarah, sometimes I think growing fruit and vegetables is simply feeding the local wildlife. While we do have "Fruit Avenue", which is developing and establishing, we'll have to hope for modest harvests. There seems to be so many things out for fruit and veg that sometimes it feels like a miracle that there's anything to pick at the end of the season! I hope you have much better results.

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    1. One day, when those trees are established, we will be bathing ourselves in apple juice and bemoaning the massive volume of fruit we have to process. Until that day, we shall remain optimistic, fleece the veggies, and share our beer and pistachios with the slugs.

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  6. I'd say you have a good start, despite the challenges. Here, I count on raccoons to take out snails and slugs but, as they also dig up everything in sight in search of grubs, I can't recommend them for pest control - your hens, if lacking some discretion, seem a better bet. The coyotes would eat them in a heartbeat here so, alas, that's not an option for me.

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    1. Few creatures (raccoons among them) could make my hens' excesses seem like an attractive option!
      I worry about foxes here. I see them in front of our house, but they have yet to attack the chickens. People's pet dogs, on the other hand, caused horrendous injuries to one of my hens.

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  7. Here's hoping you get that pumpkin pie! I'm the same as you, with plants needing to be planted out, it is the same every year for me too, Just love your medlar and chickens.xxx

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    1. I have planted more pumpkins than in previous years in the hope of something carvable at Halloween. Good luck with your planting out!

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    1. The redcurrants and strawberries are ripening beautifully. I can almost smell the summer pudding!

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  9. The ever optimistic gardener!

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    1. I have yet to meet a pessimistic gardener!

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  10. A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. I think that we have to be ever hopeful and optimistic otherwise we probably wouldn't bother. Happy gardening. Flighty xx

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    1. Thank you. Yes, we are an optimistic bunch.

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  11. Optimism is one of the best traits a gardener can possess along with persistence.

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  12. May your hope be realized in an abundant harvest this year.

    Oh, those hens! We are still learning about combining hens with gardening. Our hens destroyed all the kale and began to become fond of the other vegetables, too. We had to surround the garden boxes with chicken wire. Unattractive, yes, but effective. I've also had them uproot newly planted flowers, so this week when I added new ones, I placed large rocks at the bases. So far it's working.

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    1. Some hens are more trouble than others. My original two girls caused very little damage, but they were repeat offenders when it came to tomato theft. The four I have now are a gardener's nightmare. They are always in the way! The tines on a garden fork hold no fear for them. How I haven't accidentally skewered one, I do not know.

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  13. I love gooseberries, they remind me of my childhood and my cousin making his famous and irresistible gooseberry jam.
    Perhaps you need more frogs and toads for snail control - chickens, ooh they are fun but uncontrollable!

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    1. That sounds like a superb jam. Despite being next door to a sizeable pond, we are surprisingly underblessed with frogs. Newts, on the other hand, thrive in some parts of the garden - these are the places where I plant Hosta.

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  14. Pistachio shell mulch - I never would have thought of that. If I were you I'd be very cross with those hens.

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    1. All is forgiven at the weekend, when I make pancakes and puddings with their eggs.

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  15. oh, but a cast iron Good Reason to eat pistachios.
    Thank you ;~)

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    1. I am working on one of those for chocolate ;-)

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  16. I love pistachios and need to stop tossing the shells! I always say I want chickens but then I wouldn't have any garden left. Maybe I could just borrow one for a few hours....

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    1. It only takes them a few hours to trash a garden. They are remarkably focused.

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  17. Yes, I know all about it. I have a few seedlings still waiting to be planted into the ground, too.
    Ray

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    1. Hello Ray - welcome! I hope that they will soon be settling into their new homes.

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  18. Goes out to buy pistachios...

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  19. Really enjoyed your post...As you say, this time of year holds such promise, of summer bounty, fall harvests, and potential for pies. Your chickens sound like a great source of fun, whose occasional over-exuberant foraging is mitigated by their gift of eggs...Know what you mean about trying to get everything planted at this time of year though, definitely an annual challenge, esp. if one gardens for others. Good tip about the pistachio shells..We also eat them often, but hadn't thought of scattering the shells. Have used egg shells as slug deterrent, and it seems to work. Onward to summer : )

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    1. Thank you. I'm pleased that you enjoyed the post. Good luck with getting everything done. I have just realised that it is about 6 weeks until the spring bulb catalogues start arriving!
      I usually throw egg shells into the compost, but recently I have been keeping them back to use as a slug deterrent. I would have thought that I would have a more reliable supply of egg, rather than pistachio shells, but I got in last night to find a big bowl of pistachio shells ready for the garden and not a single egg shell.

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