raori

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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 7. Livin’ it!

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Before and after: heavy wooden structures filled to the brim with flowers and food.

It took some time to get everything going and working, so much actually, that I had to quit my beloved raori for a while. But here we are now. No more hard work, just a functioning Edible Garden filled with flowers and food. This is what I wrote one year ago:

The plan is:

– to try to grow as much food as we can by ourselves.

– to eat mainly vegetarian (although Max and the kids will eat meat occasionally).

– to buy what we can’t grow in bulk and locally grown (flour, oats, cheese, butter, milk).

– to have our own eggs (there is a chicken coop in our garden already!)

– to cook and bake everything by ourselves and really avoid processed food.

– to create a peaceful, organised and beautiful garden full of flowers and food.

And I’m happy to tell you that our plan worked! We are livin’ it and lovin’ it. Our dinners are based on what is ready to harvest, and the entire family is happier and healthier than ever 🙂

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livin it-5See my little corn field? We bought an extra freezer to be able to store it all over the winter.

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livin it-8Remember that awful grey and boring entrance to our little back yard farm? This has now been replaced with climbing beans and soft grass.

livin it-9Fresh eggs every day is the best!

livin it-10Organised Square Foot Gardening: easy to manage and care for.

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livin it-16There is something very precious about harvest from your own garden. This was Elsa’s breakfast.

livin it-17We have a huge Cherry tree at the back of the garden. In June it invites you to climb up to harvest or to have a quick snack.

meet the family-5Even babies enjoy picking vegetables.

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livin it3-1Garden dinner on the terrace: all made from Garden food: Chard in garlic and olive oil, leeks in lemon and parmesan, baked potato… yummie!

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bread-1The most basic human cooking knowledge: to learn how to bake bread. This has been the most important skill to learn. Max’s bread is the most delicious bread I’ve ever had.


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How to care for a Backyard Chicken Family

chickens-8If I would’ve known how easy it was to keep chickens, I think I would have started to raise my backyard chick-chick flock so much sooner. The truth is that I spend about 5 min per day on them, and they are three very happy and plump chicken ladies.

These are our girls and their eggs:

Tingeling (orange) is at the top of the pecking order, our mother-hen chicken leader. She is also the toughest and bravest of the three. She always comes running when she sees me, and she lets me take her up for a cuddle. She is an “Isa Brown”, a Sexalinks Hybrid. She lays one egg per day, all year around. One BIG pinkish brown egg with white sparkles. Delicious! Isa Brown chickens lay around 300-320 eggs per year.

Gittan (black) is a black Harco chicken (a Black Rocks breed), an excellent egg-layer of 280-300 eggs per year. She is a little shy, but has the same body build as Tingeling. They are BFF’s, Tingeling and Gittan. Her eggs are smooth and dark brown, she likes to spend hours before laying them. And she always lays them around my lunch hour, which stops me from eating fresh eggs for lunch. I don’t want to disturb her. She is usually done around 2 pm, so if I take a late lunch, I’ll get a warm, fresh egg on my toast!

Lotta (white) is the difficult one… She laid one egg, ONE egg, her first 6 month with us. We though something was wrong with her first, but after some research we understood that White Leghorn Chickens don’t lay eggs during the winter. Her eggs are really tasty, a real treat! And it’s so pretty to see her pure white and smooth egg in the nesting box. She is very shy, she doesn’t like to come near us, but she is much more relaxed now and has started to trust us. She does a funny little thing… The other two gladly lay their eggs on top of the other one’s egg, but not Lotta. Oh no, she gets really annoyed if there is an egg in the box when it’s her turn. She hides the other eggs by throwing straws on top of them, then makes a deep little nest for herself where she lays her egg. If we see a Lotta-egg in the nest, you have to dig around to find the other two eggs!

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chickens-6Daily Chicken Care:

Morning: We open the (big to stand in) cage where they have been pecking around in the hay since dawn. I give them about 1 dl each of chicken food (as they are free range chickens, they see to most of the food on their own. They have a huge space to roam around freely. I check that they have enough water (they can never run out of water!) and then I open the roof to the chicken coop, grab a small garden fork and start poking away the poop from the night. I put it all, straw and poop, in a pile next to the cage. Once a month I collect all the straw and throw it on the compost. During the growing season we keep them behind the garage, where a locked fence keeps them away from the vegetables, but during the winter they have access to the entire garden!

Lunch: I go for my first egg-collecting and to check that everything is ok. Most of the time it’s just in and out, as the nest is busy and I don’t want to disturb. I do like to sit down to stroke Tingeling for a while (she likes it too!) and to talk to them or give them worms if I find any.

Late afternoon: This is when I usually pick up the eggs of the day. Most of the time there are 3 pretty eggs in different colors waiting for me.

Before sunset: I trick them to go into the cage by throwing some chicken food into the straw (yes, the pooped down straw…) Once they are in I lock the cage, say goodnight and leave them. Just to be sure, I close the fence on my way out as well. There are a lot of foxes around and every neighbour have told me how the fox took their chickens! Our cage go underground as well, so I really hope we can keep him out…

The basics:

– They live in a small chicken coop, which is basically just a box with a roof, filled with straw. I always thought I needed to have a special place for the egg-laying (a nest box), but if I keep the routine of taking away the poop in the morning, I never have any accidents with soiled eggs.

– The chicken coop is located in a big metal cage that also runs underground (3×3 m wide and 2 m high). There is a tarp on the roof to protect from the rain. The food dispenser is attached to the cage, in perfect chicken height. The water dispenser stand right on the ground for now. I need to change that as there is straw in the water constantly… The cage is big enough to keep chickens in all the time, but I like to give them more space, which is why they have the entire area behind the garage. They love it! It’s their (and my kids’) play ground. This is where we have our composts, there is a bamboo bush that they love to play under, there is also a big pine tree, with loose, dry ground underneath, always protected from rain. This is where they clean up themselves. Chickens stay clean by “dust bathing”.

I just cut down all the ornamental grass, we are cutting it down to small pieces to use as straw in the chicken coop, but for now, my kids like to sit on this huge bed of dry grass and play with their feathered friends.

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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 6. The real thing now!

Early spring and square feet.

The gardening reading material that I have been plowing through this winter is Mel Bartolomew’s “the square foot garden”. I think this gardening method will fit our small garden perfectly as it enables you to squeeze in A LOT on a very small space. To quickly explain this method:

You grow everything in squares instead of rows.

By doing this you eliminate weeds growing and the endless weeding between rows. You avoid planting more than you need and there won’t be any more hard work or analyzing of the soil as you use a special mix, perfectly fitted for anything you want to grow, in raised beds.

The result is an impressive harvest in little space. Perfect for a small vegetarian family.

You plant by following a formula, a plant spacing guide, based on the size of your finished plant/ vegetable. For example: carrots are thin and don’t need a lot of space in between, so 1 square can fit 16 carrots. Beetroots are bigger, but doesn’t need a lot of space in between, thus 9 beets in 1 square. Squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage etc are bigger plants, so they need more space. 1 plant per square. See the diagram below.

March 2015 was spent building the beds, mixing the soil (Mel’s mix) and planting a few early seedlings that could stand the frost. I also gave my older kids 3 square feet each, where they can plant what they want. My son planted in each square: 6 pea plants, 1 cauliflower and 16 carrots. My daughter: 16 radishes, 16 carrots and 1 cauliflower.

My biggest challenge at the moment is to make my baby daughter understand that dirt is not meant to be eaten…

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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 5. A muddy mess!

The work men finally arrived to get rid of the weed infested gravel path today. One step closer to our beautiful Edible Garden. In the spring, if all goes as planned, this path will be filled with soft grass for small bare feet, and a big garden path filled with broccoli and sweet corn, but at the moment, it is all a muddy mess!

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The work men finally arrived to get rid of the weed infested gravel path today. One step closer to our beautiful Edible Garden. In the spring, if all goes as planned, this path will be filled with soft grass for small bare feet, but at the moment, it is all a muddy mess!


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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 4

Here comes the protein!

eggschickens-2 chickens-12 chickens-16 chickens-15Last week we bought three lovely chicken ladies and became proper urban farmers! They are so plump and adorable and I finally understand what chicken lovers mean when they say that chickens are funny. They are actually hilarious! They remind me of John Cleese doing his funny walk. And they are so soft! I love them already. We have been working a lot on the Chicken Coop this week, which was humid, damp and dirty. My kids and I did a big clean-up, painted some oil on the surface of the coop and built a brand new chicken coop door. We built them a nest in an old metal bucket and added a wooden egg (to trick them that this is where they should lay their eggs). And then it was finally time to go and get the chickens. We bought them for 8€ each at a local farm and considering that they will give us about 800 eggs a year, this is a very good deal. We are not planning to keep them in that cage. They will be free-range chickens, foraging and exploring the back of our garden, where the compost conveniently is located. So that’s it: we now have fresh and pretty much free eggs, the best fertiliser for our future plants and three cute pets to enjoy.

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In the Fall and Winter garden, everything is looking fine too. The broccoli and the carrots are growing inside a fleece tent and I hope it should protect them from possible early frost. We will still have a small amount of salads, a small pumpkin, chard and radishes to harvest, but just in case, I’m growing a few salad and chard plants inside, to harvest during the coldest months. We are still fine with vegetables though, the entire freezer is full of zucchinis from this summer. Our three zucchini plants were very productive! chickens-11 chickens-9 chickens-8 chickens-5 chickens-4 chickens-3


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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 3

Planting a fall and winter garden.

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Our Edible garden project is definitely a work-in-progress project now and we are slowly moving forward. After a huge fight with wild Strawberry runners I managed to empty almost the entire vegetable bed (apart from a few Calendulas that I left behind on purpose). I saved the Strawberry plants and a few runners to plant in my new Strawberry border along the fence by the terrace. After some deep digging and with added manure I planted Carrots, Beets, Chives, Garlic, some salads and some Rainbow chard. I never succeeded very well with Carrots, but after my studies this year, I finally found out why: you need to confuse Mr. Carrotfly! He is a clever little bug and he finds the Carrot seedlings and eat them before you even see them above ground! So for this fall/ winter garden I came prepared: I added some Chives plants and also some Chives and Dill seeds in the ground (hopefully something will come up before the frost comes.) Chives is a perennial so it will come back year after year to protect my Carrots. Yeay!

So, moving on to the other vegetable bed where I planted a few Broccoli and Artichoke seedlings that I planted from seeds in June. Artichokes can grow as a perennial here in Belgium, but I should have planted them in the spring already to be able to enjoy them next summer. Artichokes are just like Rhubarbs: they have to be left alone the first year to be able to come back as perennials. If you harvest them they will not come back the year after and the year after that and so on. So, it’s an experiment with the Artichokes, we’ll see… Oh, and don’t you think my baby Rhubarb is the cutest thing ever? I love Rhubarbs, it will be extremely hard not to harvest it next summer. I will need to ask my neighbour for a mature plant that I can harvest from immediately as well.

 

 

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We did a major harvest last week, but there are some vegetables that stay on as long as they are producing. I was getting tired of the Lemon balm and Mint spreading out their roots all over the place, so I put them in pots for now. I hope that they will stay happy there with some mulching over the winter. I re-planted Peas in a wine crate in July and they are now growing steady and I should be able to harvest some pods for salads already next week. The Rainbow Chard that I planted in June are growing so big now, that I thinned a few out and planted them in the bigger vegetable beds instead. The three Courgettes that I planted out in June are still producing 2-3 zucchinis/ courgettes per week now! As I didn’t have a lot of space this year, I hope you can see that I’m growing them upwards, on bamboo sticks. It works really great 🙂 Finally, my son really wanted a Jack o’Lantern Pumpkin for Halloween. But he told me in early July so I really didn’t think anything would come out of it if we planted. Still, I let him plant a few seeds just for fun and to my surprise one of the Pumpkin plants is growing fast now and is already growing a Pumpkin! It’s only about 8 cm wide, but there is still another month until Halloween so maybe, maybe… 

By the way, growing vegetables with kids is so much fun! I love seeing their expressions when they see the result of their planting and as they water and watch the plants grow. I can’t wait to get the chickens… It will be such a great experience for them.

 

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I also finished my Strawberry border this week! The Strawberries look a little sad, but it’s only because they haven’t rooted yet. I added the little Citronella tree here as well. The smell will keep the mosquitos away from the terrace I hope. A also store-bought a Rosemary and a Thyme, both herbs are frequently used in our kitchen.

 

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Now all we need to do is a rain-dance like my daughter here, so that this fall and winter garden will grow well and produce lots and lots of delicious and healthy vegetables!


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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 2

Cleaning up and building a compost.

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Hi there! Welcome back to our Edible Garden Project 2015, part 2. If you want to know what this is all about, please have a look at my first post which explains everything 🙂

This week has been all about cleaning up and harvest the remaining crops before planting a few new vegetables for our fall and winter garden next week. We have a ton of apples and lots of beetroots, some salads and of course the entire freezer full of courgettes (zucchinis). I also finally managed to get in touch with the handyman who is suppose to come with his excavator to dig up the awfully looking and weed-infested gravel path leading to the garage. Hopefully he’ll be able to fix a tap close to the growing area for the garden hose. At the moment I have to drag the hose aaaaall the way around the house and into the hallway! Not the best solution… Anyway, I’m so exited to get rid of all the gravel and to deep dig (adding well-composted horse manure and compost in deep trenches) or make a “lasagna preparation” of the soil for some serious planting next spring.

I have managed to clear out that horrible space behind the garage with promised bruises, nettle burns and thorn cuts as a result. But so totally worth it! Next week I’m heading to Brico (Belgium’s store for gardening and building tools etc.) to buy mi’self a fence for that area. I need to keep the neighbours dog blind for the chickens, plus save them from an ugly compost area. I found so much trash all over the place, I also need to take a trip to the recycle station to get rid of some wood planks and rusty tools that I found on the ground. I also found a metal structure that will be perfect for my cucumbers next year!

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This week I also build us a seriously big and useful compost! I used two old pallets against the wall of the garage and I will ask my nice husband to nail them down in the ground with some poles later on. I like the idea of having the compost open in the front. The chickens will use the compost as a playground when they are out and about foraging, hopefully they will poop on it a lot to speed up the composting. Having the front of the compost open will also help when turning it, which is something you should do pretty often. I find the above image useful for knowing what you can and can’t compost. I should actually print it out and put it in the kitchen 😉 I also decided to give that wet and gooey old compost a chance to recover. I’m sure with a little balance of more dry material (cardboard, straw, dry grass, dry leaves etc.) it will be alright and soil nutritious.

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Finally I have been hanging out with this little lady: introducing my 2 month old daughter Alva! After all my hard muscle work in the garden, it’s seriously nice to sit down for a while, nursing her and laughing at her toothless smiles. Can you tell I’m completely in love? She is helping us in the garden by watching us work from her stroller and by sleeping so good outside, letting her parents work undisturbed. If she wakes up in the middle of a nap, all I do is starting to whistle or sing (or talk embarrassingly loud to myself!!) while working. Digging and stomping around very loud next to her also works… she falls back asleep straight away. Neat trick, huh? 😉 All kids really want to know that we are close by and that they are safe, right? Anyway, next summer she’ll probably be crawling around in our edible garden, getting dirt on her knees and straight into her mouth, and taking her first steps of course!