Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A Runner bean trench

I'm always looking for new ideas on how I can improve what I grow. There's always plenty of advice and inspiration about, some bright new ideas and some age old tricks that your grandparents might have used.

One that I haven't heard of prior to this year is a runner bean trench. The principle being that instead of adding your moisture retentive waste to the compost heap you bury it all in a trench where you are going to plant your runner beans. It makes sense really, beans love and need moisture particularly when coming into flower, the buried waste will provide them with this and over time release nutrients into the soil and more importantly feed the plant.

Perhaps I should explain further as to why I'm paying so much attention to my runner beans this year. Last years were perfectly fine however they all came at once and frozen runner beans just aren't as good as fresh. The season was fairly short and they went stringy quite quickly, maybe my fault for not harvesting them as young as I could of certainly something I'll aim to do this year. Also I had intended to enter these beans into the local village show, one in particular was looking hot favorite for the longest runner bean until the chickens got loose and pecked the end off. This has prompted me to invest in a pack of just ten seeds of a variety called 'Stenner' at a price you would normally pay for two hundred seeds. It sounds obsessive I know and I questioned myself when I bought them but if that's what it takes to at least get one entry into the show this year it'll be worth it.

Rumour has it that the beans should be massaged from a young age to ensure that they are perfectly straight. Now that does sound a step too far but don't be surprised if you find me hidden amongst a runner bean bush come midsummer.

Anyway having  recently combined two compost heaps to free up a site to start another I had plenty of material that could go into the trench. If your more organised than me you wont have put your runner beans canes up yet hindering your access to dig the trench. I was a bit keen a few weeks ago and after a particularly rough couple of weeks with the weather I was desperate to add some structure to the garden. Pulling a few canes aside I dug a trench about a foot deep and and put about six inches of half rotted material form the compost heap. This was mainly straw, kitchen waste and cardboard.

You can just see the broad beans in background starting to shoot up. These were started off on the windowsill and planted out about three weeks ago. I added a few organic chicken manure pellets to the trench and back-filled it with the soil I had originally taken out. This year I have eighteen canes so planted two beans either side of the first six canes. The rest will go in successionally throughout the coming weeks. This used up the rest of last years seeds so in addition to the show stoppers I 'll have to get another pack. Three varieties is a good thing though, it's part of the reason that we grow our own so that we can taste things that you just can't buy. I probably won't buy last years seeds again they were okay but I just felt they could be improved on in flavour so now I'm looking forward to finding a new variety to try.

Monday, 13 April 2015


Back in November when I was winter pruning the fruit bushes I thought I'd take a chance at getting some cuttings from them.

With the raspberrie canes I cleared all of last years growth leaving just this years shoots which will bear fruit this coming summer. With the black and redcurrant bushes I pruned more to give shape and structure to the plants as well as improve air circulation. The six strongest shoots from these were chosen to become new plants, three of each type. The cuttings were trimmed to about ten inches with diagonal cuts at the top and bottom done with as sharp a knife as possible to give the cleanest cut.

I then made a slit in the ground by pushing a spade in about six inches deep. The cuttings were then pushed into the holes ensuring that they were in contact with the soil at the bottom and of course making sure that they were the right way up, i.e. the way that they had been growing originally. It was all firmed down with my boot to ensure there was good contact.

I had seen it done this way on TV using root hormone powder to promote growth, but as I didn't have any and had no intention of going out and buying any I carried on without. I didn't have too much hope but there was nothing to lose. Where they are in the garden is a relatively unused patch where the chickens once were and in shade for half the day. I had no immediate plans for it like I have with most other areas so using it for cuttings was as good as anything else.

As the weather has now started to warm up buds are beginning to open on the trees, weeds are starting to poke through what has been bare ground for the past few months and early sowings planted more in hope than expectation are actually germinating. To my astonishment buds have appeared and opened on the fruit cuttings. They had been all but forgotten about through the winter, in fact only four remain where they had been knocked over when walked on by me or the ducks.

Of course this is fantastic news for so many reasons. I have successfully created a new plant for free from what would otherwise have gone on the compost heap. I have massively multiplied my harvest if not this year then definitely next year and I have improved the health and therefore the amount of fruit I will get from the parent plants.

The cuttings won't do too much this year with regards to fruit, they will be concentrating on producing strong roots and good top growth. The plants will be ready for digging up and planting in their final position at some point during July/August. I've now got to decide just where I can fit another four fruit bushes!

Monday, 23 March 2015


After numerous escape attempts over the past year I have finally got around to building a duck-proof enclosure.

The garden is surrounded by large hedges either side which I initially thought would be adequate. During the winter they have got a bit bare and every so often the ducks would find a hole and either sneak into the neighbours garden or into the field on the other side. The neighbour didn't mind at all, she had recently moved in and had not had much chance to start work on her garden so them running around on her lawn was a novelty at first. It was pointless rounding them up, they always make their way back within an hour or so we left them to it, watching to see where they would come back through the hedge and blocking it up with some sticks or chicken wire. this would work for a while then after a couple of weeks they would find/make a new hole and the whole process started again.

With summer approaching and an eighteen month old bursting to get out into the garden we decided to fence the lawn off halfway down, keeping the ducks off the top part of the lawn and the majority of the vegetable patches. As I'm trying to keep the garden as cost neutral as possible this year the sticks required were all collected from fallen trees nearby and some that I had knocking around the garden.

As you can see after a fairly rough winter the lawn has taken a bit of a battering. The outline of a square is where the portable chicken coop was until a couple of weeks ago. This is part of my strip grazing system and with the weather warming up will soon grow back. You can really notice the difference in the taste of the eggs once the chickens have been moved onto a fresh patch of grass.

I started of by making shorter hurdles with long legs that could be hammered into the ground and give me a basic frame.

Once I had enough they were laid out to see which best fitted where and hammered in as deep as possible.

To provide further rigidity I'll weave some younger branches through the existing frame both to support and to block any of the larger holes.

Whilst the ducks are still determined to escape, at the moment the fence seems to be doing it's job. They have plenty of space with a pond, a large patch of grass and the bottom veg patch to root around on. It's more than enough for the three of them also sharing with the chicken coop in the bottom corner (I learnt my lesson last summer that however free range I want my chickens to be chickens and vegetable patches do not mix). The fence looks almost exactly how I had imagined and the ducks will soon get used to it.