Autumn is well and truly here. We've had rain and plenty of it! The decorative grapevine is autumn red and its leaves are beginning to cover the ground; that's if I don't pick them up and feed them to the bunnies. Every seed that has been waiting out the drought has sprouted and it seems there were a LOT of seeds!
I feel like I've been spending too many years getting overwhelmed by everything I thought I was supposed to be doing and an epiphany moment in the garden may just have helped with that. This spring/summer I spent a lot of time excavating one small garden bed to remove the rubbish and rubble in it and add more nutrients to it. The result was that I created an area that was easier to manage, could be watered quickly and easily, by hand or hose, held the moisture in the soil better and was easy to weed. The chilli plants I put there have grown better than any I've grown before and it was easy to harvest from them because the area was accessible and not crowded in with other plants that had gotten out of hand.
I've had people telling me to “grow more stuff” and for so long I've been trying to do just that, but then things don't do as well as they could because I've not left enough space to access the plants and tend to them. I’d make the pathways narrow in order to get more growing space, then the plants would grow out over the paths and I'd struggle to get through to tend to them without treading on them, so I’d put off doing anything. Then they'd get crowded out by weeds or overwhelmed by pests that I could have kept under control had I only been able to get to them more easily. I also struggle to harvest properly and end up losing produce because it gets past its best.
With the autumn/winter season getting into swing, I've decided less is more and made the paths bigger and the growing areas smaller, but more accessible. It's a lesson I could do with bringing to the rest of my life too; instead of trying to accomplish what I think everyone else expects me to accomplish, achieve what I can in the way that suits me best and which is manageable for me. I might actually get more done that way.
The juvenile chickens have either been sold, or harvested, with the last two pullets (now named Wisp and Echo) going into the main flock ready to start laying while the older hens have their break. Adding a couple of pullets each season is an old farming practice which keeps the flow of eggs through winter and takes over from any older hens that stop laying or die.
With the juveniles gone, I am now planting in the run they vacated. I marked the paths out initially with old straw from cleaning out the rabbit cages until the seeds came up, then I’ll extend the straw to mulch around the emerging plants. By this time the plants should be able to be seen well enough to know where the paths are without a distinct guide. This year I've made the paths wider and made more of them than usual so I can actually reach all the plants as they emerge.
As the season progresses weeds will grow too, but I'll only remove the ones around my crop plants and leave the ones that come through on the paths as long as they aren't toxic. Those on the paths will be trimmed to feed the rabbits throughout the growing season, then once everything is harvested the chickens will go back into the run to finish what is left and break any pest cycles that I haven't kept on top of.
There are three beds which have potatoes in, along the fences I have sugar snap peas sprouting, then a small bed where I threw down some lettuce seeds with the last section for sunflowers, if they take.
The growing bed which goes down the middle of the garden had mostly onions in this last season, many of which bolted as soon as the sudden hot spell started. At the time I tried to salvage as many as I could by pulling them when they first started to bolt, then either using them straight away or slicing and freezing them. Sometimes they had gone a bit too far and the main flowering stem became woody, but that could still be removed and the rest salvaged, with the woody stem being added to the stockpot.
I reached a point where I just couldn't keep on top of the bolting onions, there were so many of them! I had filled plenty of tubs for the freezer and didn't really have the time or inclination to prep and dry them. Even the chickens had had enough of the excess leaves and stems being thrown into the runs and I started laying them down wherever there was space on the soil. On some of those really hot days I would go out and the garden smelled like cooking onions. Thankfully, I don't think it was the living onions I could smell, rather the remains lying on the ground, slow broiling in the sun.
I eventually gave up trying to salvage bolting onions and as the weather cooled started to harvest some of the ones which had weathered the elements as normal onions. As I began pulling up all those that had bolted, I discovered amongst them that more than I thought had come through without resorting to flowering.
Over recent weeks I've been planting sprouting potatoes in this bed in addition to the ones in the vacant chicken run. The area was a mess, with the onions and their seed heads keeling over and weeds down the middle because it's a wide bed and I hadn't been able to reach the centre without treading on other onions. So as I prepared the ground for the potatoes, I made little alcoves going into the bed by laying down the bolted onions to walk on and reach all the growing area. I have some garlic that I missed harvesting among the chaos and transplanted them at the ends of the alcoves along with some onions seedlings that are coming up from the millions of dropped seeds. This little section gives a little more growing area, but is still accessible.
Last year all the onions filling this bed came from a single seed head, so I'm sure you can imagine just how many seedlings are now coming up from the seed heads of multiple dozens of onions. I'm pulling onion seedlings like they are weeds, or at least thinning them out in areas where I want them. They are a nutritious treat for the chickens, though, so not going to waste.
The broccoli plants are getting huge and despite checking them every few days I'm obviously not being thorough enough, because I found a few fat caterpillars that evaded me as eggs or hatchlings. The chickens didn't mind these tasty treats.
I'm rethinking the location of the planters, because the couch grass just keeps creeping up into them despite attempts to stop it by lining the bases with cardboard. I'd have to completely bock the bottom off to thwart it, but I want them to be able to drain and interact with the soil life. I have ideas for relocating a couple of them, but not all. Time to start drawing up some garden plans.
Previously I'd bought a male rabbit from a breeder for our little doe and discovered that he was in fact a she; so she went back to the breeder. I particularly wanted a broken patterned buck, but the nowhere seemed to have one any time soon. Then a friend who has two males with broken patterns and was a bit fed up of them humping each other and marking territory around the house, asked if I wanted them. I didn't have the room to take both, though, so I had to refuse because they'd have needed to be housed separately once they smelled females, or they'd start fighting. About a week later she asked if I just wanted to take one. Once I'd established she was okay with separating them and her daughters were sure we picked up our new family member, Sunny.
He has a lovely temperament, but is not as comfortable with being held as mine. He's getting better, though. With 4 bunnies working on the lawn, it's down to stubble. I've started to collect extra grass from the creek and the empty plot down the road.
No human lawn mowing needed.
On 18th and 19th April, the last two fertile eggs from my late rooster, Roast, hatched. I think I got the day I put them in wrong, because I was expecting them to hatch on 17th and started to get worried when they weren't even pipping by that point. Then once they had hatched I was getting nervous because they didn't eat or drink for a couple of days. This is actually quite normal, because they still have sustenance from the yolk for up to 3 days after hatch, I've just never been so hyper-aware of this before. Then on Thursday the smallest, I suspect she's female, aspirated some of the drinking water and being young she struggled to sneeze it out. She spent two days with it sitting in her lungs, barely eating, and being generally lethargic. I was worried I was going to lose her, then the other might have also pined away because they are so close. Thankfully she turned around by Saturday morning.
We've finally decided on names for them, Peep and Boo. Because I want to be able to train the rooster, I've been handling them a lot and now it's like having a toddler in the house again. They yell to come out of the brooder once they're awake, run rampant and yell if they lose sight of one of us for too long.
Their favourite place, by the woodburner.