Sprouting seeds – for people & poultry!

As the end of the main harvesting is over and the year draws to a close I’ve usually already started to think about next year and what to grow. The seed catalogues are already starting to look a bit well-thumbed and my list grows longer each year as I find new varieties of veg to try but I’m a Yorkshire man and suffer from that affliction of having short arms and deep pockets. This invariably means I’ll have a rummage through my seed box first and foremost to see what I might have in there that is not beyond its ‘sow before date’ and could be sown come the spring.

It’s at this point that I usually unearth various packets of seed that need to be used this year and of course it’s too late to be sowing outdoors even if I could get a spade in the frozen ground. So up pops my northern roots again, don’t waste the seed, sprout it instead!

A sprout is the transitional stage between seed and plant, it is in effect a plant but one with no roots yet that is surviving off the nutrients available in the seed itself. But what’s the value in eating a sprouted seed, why not just eat the seed? Well aside from the aesthetic elements of munching on a juicy sprout as opposed to crunching on a tasteless seed there’s the science to consider. By sprouting the seed you call into action the seeds enzyme content. These enzymes set to work on the nutrients locked within the seed converting them into a bit of superfuel that enables the plant to grow rapidly before putting down roots. By doing this it makes the starches, fats and proteins contained within the seed more accessible and easier to digest.

….. and as the title suggests, if you sprout enough then feed them as a supplement to your chickens, they will get much the same benefit as you and I.

What You Will Need

  • A couple of clean pots or jam jars with lids
  • A ferret around in your seed box to find some suitable seeds to sprout such as      radish, beetroot, alfalfa
  • Some squares of muslin or net curtain
  • Elastic bands

Step 1 – Add couple of tablespoons of seed to a jar.

Step 2 – Part fill the jar with cold water and seal with the lid.

Step 3 – Put the jars on a window ledge or in a light position (but not in direct sunlight) and leave the seeds to soak for 8 hours or overnight.

Step 4 – Remove the lid and carefully drain the soak water off. Give the seeds a good rinse through with fresh water and place them back in the jar

sprouting

Step 5 – Cover the top of the jar with a square of muslin or net curtain and hold it in place with an elastic band. Turn the jar upside down and tilt at a 45 degree angle for 5 minutes. This will help the remaining water to drain off and reduces the risk of the seeds going mouldy

 

 

Step 6 – Place the jar in a warm well lit position, again avoiding direct sunlight and repeat the rinse process each day until the sprouts are ready. After 2-3 days the sprouts should begin to appear and are ready to eat when they are about 1-2cm long.

‘Bootifully’ Easy Boot Projects

The wet winter months usually mean a return to more sturdy footwear for gardening, and quite often a return to not-so-stylish muddy platform heels!

I wouldn’t describe ourselves as being particularly house proud, in fact with the number of children, chickens and a messy collie dog, its like shovelling snow in a snowstorm trying to keep the place tidy. We do however try to avoid traipsing in half the garden on the bottom of wellies and the like and this is where these two for the projects come into play.

Both are very simple, very easy to make and cost pratically nothing! The boot scraper is a pleasantly rustic design built of a log from the wood pile and a roof slate, both appearing for free in the garden following the recent high winds blasting in from the Berwyns. The boot pull, or boot jack is an age old idea yet one that is seldom seen in a average porchway, surprising considering its efficiency in not only removing a wellie boot but the fact its completely hands free.

Both the projects can be completed in a spare hour at the weekend, and need very little in the way of DIY skills. The simplicity of the build also means you can go to town decorating them if that’s your thing, alternatively you leave them with the rough rustic look.

20 Complete

What you will need

Boot Scraper
• Saw or chainsaw
• Chisel and mallet
• Glue
Boot pull
• Power drill
• Jigsaw
• Countersink drill bit
• Screwdriver
• Sandpaper or electric sander

Materials
Boot Scraper
• A reasonable sized log
• A old roof slate
Boot pull
• A short length of board or plywood
• A couple of screws

Boot Scraper
Step 1
Using the saw or a chainsaw remove one third of the diameter of the log in order to create a flat surface

Step 2
Using a saw make two cuts a couple of millimetres apart along the length of the log and chisel out the waste. Alternative make a single cut with a chainsaw.

20 Step 2

Step 3
Slot the roof slate into the gap leaving about 10cm to stand out from the log. Use small chips of wood to pad the gap if the slate wobbles at all.

Boot Pull
Step 2-1
Using the cutting template, mark out the design and cut it out using a jigsaw. Cut the rest section out also, allowing for the slight angle.

20 diagram

Step 2-2
Using sandpaper or an electric sander smooth the edges down, pay particular attention to the mouth of the pull.

Step 2-3
Drill and counter sink the main pull just below the mouth. Attach the rest using a couple of 40mm wood screws

 

Job done. No need for mud or muddy hands thanks to a couple of chunks of wood and a bit of roof slate 🙂

Winter pruning of blackcurrants

A well managed blackcurrant bush can provide quite a harvest in a year with more than enough to meet the need of the kitchen and very often surplus to freeze for the winter months. If left to their own devices though they get overcrowded, begin to crop poorly and become prone to viral diseases and gall mite.

Some people ‘prune’ out the heavy fruiting branches during the summer prior to picking as it can make harvesting easier but this can result in the wrong branches being removed. Instead I find winter pruning is better as it helps maintain the vigour of the plant and means the plant remains a productive part of the fruit garden for much longer. Aside from it being a handy winter garden task when the rest of the vegetable garden has slowed down, the leaf drop means it’s easier to see the overall structure of the bush.

The objective of winter pruning of blackcurrants is to try and create a light airy upright habit and shape with as much of the last seasons new growth available (as these will be the main fruit bearing branches in the new season). To do this you will need to carefully select and remove the branches that are causing congestion at the base of the plant and those that are cluttering up the upper levels of the plant.

An hours clever and careful winter pruning of a neglected blackcurrant bush can be very successful, and whilst the pruning required may initially reduce the crop in the following season, in future years it will pay you back in spades, or should that be crumbles, ice-creams and jams.

What You Will Need

Tools

  • Secateurs
  • Lopers or  a small pruning saw

Step 1

Look closely at the unpruned bush. Try to pick out the crowded or stagnant areas and look for the main growth and stems that will contribute to a bowl structure, also identify those that cause poor air circulation.

Familiarise yourself with the different types of growth. The new shoots (which will fruit next year) will have smooth bark the colour of strong tea. Second year growth will have already have fruited in the last season. The bark will be a rough grey colour and it may carry a loose bunch, or strig, of fruit stems.

The bark of third year growth is black and rough to the touch. These will not have borne fruit in the last season but many will be carrying the important second and first year growth.

Step 2

Start pruning by cutting out the weak and congested whips from the centre of the shrub. Whilst these could bear fruit in the coming season the crop will be poor and their growth will reduce air circulation and promote disease. Also remove and burn any diseased branches.

Step 3

Identify the third year growth that is either unproductive (ie not carrying a good crop of second & first growth) or doesn’t contribute to the overall upright habit and shape of the bush. Lop this out as close to the ground as possible.

Step 4

Remove any branches that cross over and are rubbing. These run the risk of damaging the bark and encouraging disease

Step 5

Prune out any second year growth that either is not supporting good first year growth or is not adding to the overall shape of the bush

Step 6

Finally scatter some good organic granular fertilizer around the base of the plant and then mulch it with some good quality homemade compost.

Green Roof for the Chicken Coop

Every now and then I’m given a chicken house to put through some field trials and as a consequence I can end up with quite a few ‘buildings’ covering the field. It was on one such coop I figured I try a different kind of field trial by sticking a green roof on it. Why not, after all it’s a roof like any other so it would provide “the environmental benefits of having a living, breathing space where once there was nothing, transform an otherwise dull space into something aesthetically pleasing AND provide you with more growing space.”

This project will take you through how to go about constructing a simple and effective green roof on your chicken coop. There are options to buy ready-made matting that can be rolled out and attached to a roof but at over £20 a metre this can prove a little prohibitive, especially as this whole project costs less than £20 if you sow or propagate your own plants. Better instead to build your own, that way you can decide the planting plan and over the years it will pad out and provide the same effect as the matting. It also enables you to create your own personal blend of weather-hardy plants such as sedums, alpines, mosses, grasses, seasonal herbs, and house leeks.

In fact you could apply the same design principles to a shed, log store, over even a bird box!

What You Will Need:

  • An offcut of pond liner or damp proof liner
  • Geotextile membrane or some old blankets
  • Sufficient Yorkshire board to go around the perimeter of the roof
  • Screws
  • A sack of 10mm gravel
  • Peat free compost mixed with sharp sand
  • Drill
  • Saw
  • Screwdriver

Step 1

Identify a suitable roof structure ideally with a 9-10 degree pitch on it. Check it’s strong enough to take the weight of a saturated green roof and add supporting framework (crossbeams attached to the side supports & roof will help) if necessary.

Step 2

Attach the section of pond liner or damp proof membrane and make sure it overlaps the edges so water will run off and not seep into the roof. Staple into position and trim off any excess with a knife or pair of scissors

Step 3

Cut lengths of board to ‘box in’ the roof. This will stop the planting medium from simply washing off. Allow a 5mm gap between the board and the roof on the lower edge. This will help with water drainage.

Step 4

Staple the geotextile member (or old blanket) to the box sides. This layer will help retain moisture and reduce the need for frequent watering.

Step 5

Add a 2cm layer of the gravel to the roof. This layer will aid water dispersal and drainage.

Step 6

Finally add about 5cms of the compost and sharp sand mix and level it out. You are now ready for planting it up.

Homemade Fertilizers – Comfrey, common nettles & chicken crap

The use of fertilizers in the garden is an essential part of having a successful productive garden. Growing crops or plants uses up minerals in the earth and over time the soil will need replenishing. This need not be via the many chemical fertilizers, but by a more natural eco-friendly approach using ingredients can either be ‘grown’ at home or sourced locally.

 

Homemade fertilisers come in two main categories, there is the solid type and the liquid type, both need creating from raw materials before they can be used around the garden so a bit of planning ahead is required. Also both have their pro’s & con’s in terms of effectiveness, ease of making and time of use.

 

Solid fertilizers

These are basically fertilizers created by composting waste and are used as a dressing at the beginning of the growing season. They slowly release their nutrients into the surrounding soil during the season giving the plants a steady supply of minerals as it begins to grow.

If, like me, you keep hens as part of your garden then you will probably be well aware of the fantastic properties of chicken poo but equally be aware of the fact that fresh chicken manure, if applied directly around plants, can cause scorching as its simply too strong for the plant. The same can be said of cow or horse manure and as such these waste products will need heaping preferably in a 1 metre square bay for at least a year so they rot down before they can be used. That said the resulting ‘black gold’ makes an absolutely fantastic dressing for your beds at the beginning of the season. It can also be used as a dressing around fruit trees in the spring giving them an excellent boost.

Chicken poo after a years composting

 

 

Liquid Fertilizers

Unlike the ‘heap and forget’ approach required for solid fertilizers, liquid types need a little more preparation though they produce the valuable end product much faster. Basically these types of fertilizers are used to apply directly to the plants during their main growing season. They are also fast acting.

 

To make liquid fertilisers you will need a good sized water butt preferably with a tap on it for draining of the final product. You can buy a water butt if you wish or alternatively make one using a plastic dustbin with a tap attachment.

 

I use two types of plant to create liquid fertilisers, Comfrey which I grow in the vegetable patch, is a naturally very deep rooted herb that acts as an accumulator extracting inaccessible minerals from the depths of the soil. I also use nettles which I leave to grow in a corner of the orchard, these are fast growing surface plants that have plenty of lush nutrient-packed growth. especially during the early part of their lifecycle. Both plants are made into fertilizer in much the same way by half filling the bin with leaf matter from the plant, weighting it down with a brick and then fill the bin with water. In 6 weeks’ time a dark brown liquid that can be tapped off from the bin. This can be bottled and stored or put to use straight away but don’t be tempted to apply it directly, it is way too strong and needs diluting down with 10 parts water to a tea colour. One word of warning though, the solution can get smelly so make sure you use a lid on your water butt and locate it well away from the kitchen window or communal part of the garden!

 

Fresh nettles weighted down. In 6 weeks it'll be ready to use

Fence Pole Table (to go with the Fence Pole Bench)

A bit ago on this blog I showed you how to knock together a cheap but very weather resistant garden bench using fence poles and some yorkshire board using nothing much more than a chainsaw, a hammer and some nails. Well heres another simple DIY job with more fence poles & board, again using little else then a hammer and nails, and also incorporating a bit of green wood.

 

If, like me, you try to make a habit of actually getting to sit down and enjoy your garden, but equally, like me, you are outside in all weathers, then there is a need for something to put your gear on, or your cuppa, that can cope with the elements. This simple table design provides a good all year round solution, and because of the simplicity of its build, it can be more or less scaled and adapted to fit whatever space requirements you have.

 

Like the garden bench it requires limited woodworking skills and can be built in under an hour and costs around £10 if you have to buy in the materials. If you have more wood available then you can make a larger table if you want, the same basic concepts apply.

 

One of the great things about creating rustic looking garden furniture like this is that even a novices work can provide a sturdy and satisfying result which can be very easily personalised. You never know, you may even find friends and family placing orders!

 

What you will need

Tools

  • Chainsaw or Bow saw
  • Hammer
  • Drill
  • Tape measure

 

Materials

  • 125mm nails
  • 30mm nails
  • 70mm wood screws
  • 20mm wood screws
  • Fence poles cut as follows:
    4 x 450mm (Legs)
    2 x 750mm (long cross piece)
    2 x 600mm (short cross piece)
  • Green wood cut to same lengths as cross pieces above
  • 2 x 500mm baton
  • 4 x (150mm x 800mm) board (reclaimed pallet or floorboards work well)

Step 1

Using a chainsaw or bow saw, cut the fence poles to the required lengths.

 

Step 2

Construct the two end sections by first drilling and then nailing the legs to the short cross pieces. The legs should be positioned 5cm in from the end of the cross piece and its top should be flush with the edge of the cross piece

 

Step 3

Position the short green wood sections 10cm from the base of the leg and with a 5cm overlap. Drill and nail into position

 

 

Step 4

Tie the two end sections into place using the long cross pieces and long green wood sections. Drill and nail into position as above, again using a 5cm overlap and butt up to the end cross sections.

 

Step 5

Line up board sections, ensuring they are square and secure together by screwing the batons in to position 15cm in from the ends and 5cm in from each edge

 

Step 6

Attach the table top to the table frame by drilling and screwing into position through the short cross pieces. For a better finish do this from the underside of the table.

 

Job done, now you have somewhere to put those killer courgettes!

....the 'forgotten ones.."

 

 

 

Apple Tree Recovery – Pruning & how to revive an old tree

When we moved here some years back we were presented with quite a wilderness. The house was just about to reach at least its second dereliction in as many decades and the garden was in need of some serious help to try and bring it back to some semblance of order. A previous owner had planted up some wonderful fruit trees included a variety of Shropshire prune, plus a number of apple, cherry and pear trees however these had been abandoned for a number of years and its taken sometime to gradually bring as many as we could back into productivity. Ok, some people would advocate starting over with new stock plants but I really hate cutting trees down unless there is a very good reason such as disease or safety, besides theres something wonderful about a knarled old Bramley bursting into life again.

By the end of February is essential you have most of your fruit tree pruning complete before the plant begins to grow so heres a step by step guide to recovering a neglected spur bearing apple tree.

 

This particular tree has been pruned over previous years as it was in a terrible state so if you have one that really is a congested mess then execute this process over a 3 year period in order to control the regrowth and achieve a level of productivity without stressing the tree and exposing it to potential infection or disease.

As a basic rule of thumb the first pruning activity should be the 3D’s, this is to prune out the diseased, dead or damaged branches, but by the same measure you should look to shape the tree into a bowl structure. This will let light and air through into the canopy which will not only mean healthy growth but quality productive growth. As my grandfather told me once ‘aim to create a bowl shape with enough space for a pigeon to fly through and it’ll see you right’. The old fella’s tips have never failed me yet!

 

What you will need

Tools

  • Pruning saw/Bow saw
  • Secateurs
  • Long handled loppers

 

Step 1

No action in this step, just observation. Take a good long look at the tree structure, try to visualise a bowl like shape. It’s always good to take step back and observe throughout the process also.

 

Step 2

Using a pruning saw remove all dead or diseased wood, cutting back to the main branch or trunk

 

Step 3

Look for any crossing branches, they will usually show rubbing on the bark as this one does. Remove them, they will cause a wound for disease in the long run.

 

Step 4

Prune out any whips growing on the main trunks, these will be unproductive and reduce the light and air in the tree if left to grow.

 

Step 5

Using a bow saw or pruning saw remove any central trunks that may sprout whips and interfere with the bowl structure you are looking for.

 

Step 6

Cut out two out of every three of the remaining new growth whips. Long handled loppers make this job quicker than ladders

 

Step 7

Prune the remaining new growth down to three buds from the main branch cutting about an inch beyond the terminal bud.

 

Step 8

Apply a good mulch of well rotted compost to keep the weeds down and give the tree a boost after its ‘surgery’

 

Step 9

Stand back, have a cup of tea, and survey the shape. Identify if there is any remaining pruning required in order to achieve that desired bowl shape

 

Fruits of your labours

Wheelbarrow compost riddle & drying tray

With having a fairly large productive garden and more chickens than you can shake a stick at, we create quite a bit of garden waste, though far from ‘waste’ it is, as we compost just about everything we can. We do this not only to supplement the vegetable plot but also to create our own potting medium.

 

We’ve found that mixing our home-made compost along with some of the composted PAS 100 green waste we buy in, and a bit of loam, creates a great recycled growing medium for a number of the pot plants we grow. The problem is though that whilst the green waste is screened, our own compost can be a bit lumpy, and needs riddling. The trouble is though that with the quantities the small hand-held riddles aren’t quite up to the job hence this simple device, a large scale compost riddle.

 

This design means I can riddle large quantities of compost directly from the compost bins and into the wheelbarrow.  I can also put the larger bits of compost that didn’t pass through the riddle straight back on to the cooking heap for further decomposition. You’ll be surprised at the quality of the riddled product.

 

The other useful element of this large scale sieve is that when it’s not in use it doubles up as an excellent tray for drying out onions and garlics, or ‘hardening’ pumpkins and squashes before storage. And when it’s not doing anything at all, it can be easily stashed away in the potting shed. The project will take no more than 30 minutes to produce and costs a few pounds

 

As a riddler...

 

...and now a drying frame

 

What you will need

Tools

  • Saw
  • Screwdriver
  • Drill
  • Tape measure
  • Wire cutters/Pliers
  • Staple gun

 

Materials

  •  Approximately 6metres of 25mm x 50mm treated timber batons
  • 1m x 0.5m sheet of weld mesh with 1cm holes
  • Wood screws

 

Step 1

Measure the width and length of your wheelbarrow to get the dimensions for the compost riddle. Ideally you will need either (or both) the sides or top and bottom of the frame in contact with the edges of the barrow.

 

Step 2

Using a handsaw or table saw cut the baton lengths according to the required measurements to make two frames. Sand off any rough edges.

 

Step 3

Drill and screw together each of the two frames using 2.5 inch wood screws. The joint need only be strong enough to hold the frame roughly in shape so a single screw will be sufficient.

 

 

Step 4

Using the wire cutters or pliers, cut the weld mesh to fit the frame. Make it a couple of centimetres smaller than the outside edge of the frame so as to avoid any sharp ends protruding.

 

Step 5

Lay the weld mesh over one of the frames and staple into position. If you don’t have a staple gun powerful enough then small U nails can be used but be sure to hammer them fully into the wood. 

 

Step 6

Place the second frame over the top of the frame with the weld mesh attached and sandwich the mesh. Drill and screw the second frame into place.

 

Job done, have a sit down and a brew now

 

 

Build a bird box!

This is a part of an old article I wrote some years back but on the request of a twitter friend Heather Wilde of @KidsNorthWest I’m uploading it here as she’s holding a bird box building party soon so hopefully she’ll find this timely and useful 🙂

Birds are an integral part of any garden, be it an urban one or one out in the sticks. More and more people are feeding birds (click for a novel bird feeder idea) and enjoying this doorstep wildlife spectacle, and what better way to further enhance it than to provide some simple accommodation for them to raise young in.

 

I’ve been a keen bird watcher since I was a child when my mother gave me a collection of children’s “Things to Do” cards she had received by collecting Batchelor’s soups labels. Within the pack was a card about bird watching and how to start a field note book, and I thought I would give it a go. We only had a small back garden on an estate in a village near Leeds, but having spent many an hour at the kitchen window I’d recorded in excess of 30 species of birds there in my first year of ‘watching’. I was hooked and still am to this day, be it rarity turning up locally, the first swallow of the year or a house sparrow feeding her brood on the window ledge.

 

Over the years I’ve lived in both urban and rural settings, and for some reason that escapes me I’ve developed a habit of making and putting up a bird box at the beginning of each year. Winter is a good time of year too, it gives the box a chance to weather and settle before the breeding season starts in earnest. It’s an extremely simple and cheap thing to do. It requires minimal woodworking skills and is perfect for getting the kids involved in something that might just have the same impact as the cards my mum gave me all those years back.

On top of that it’s a great idea for new and unestablished gardens that may not have the natural nest sites for birds. Of course you could just buy one ready made however different birds have different housing requirements just like people.

 

This design alone can be modified to attract around 7 different species of bird by simply changing the size of the entrance hole – 25mm for coal, blue and marsh tit, 28mm for great tits and tree sparrows, or 32mm for house sparrow and nuthatches.

 

Many garden bird species are declining in numbers year on year, yet they are an essential element for the success of our garden ecosystem, so why not spend a couple of pounds and a winter hour knocking up some accommodation for them, you’ll be repaid by the bucket load when you see the first young appearing at the entrance hole.

 

And just to prove I’ts not beyond anyone’s reach to build, my youngest son (with some assistance from his older brother) performed almost the entire build himself. I built one myself at the same time and I have to declare, his was better!

 

 

What you will need

Tools:

  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Galvanised nails (3cm)
  • Drill
  • Hole saw or large drill bit
  • Bored teenager or enthusiastic youngster ‘optional’

Materials

  • 15cm x 2cm x 142cm tanalised plank
  • 15cm x 5cm rubber strip (car inner tube, pond liner etc)
  • Small hook and eye fitting

 

 

Step 1

Using the template below, measure out the cuts to be made on the plank. Most hand saws have 90 and 45 degree guides built into the handle these days, or alternative use a set square. Then cut the sections out.

 

 

Step 2

Having decided on the entrance hole size, drill the entrance hole. It needs to be at least 125mm from the base. This means the nest will be low enough within the box to minimise the possibility of predation by cats.

 

Step 3

Attach the side panels to the back piece using the hammer and nails. Be sure to check the sides are positioned directly opposite each other or the rest of the build will be out of line!

 

Step 4

Side the base into position between the two side pieces and nail it to the sides. Drill a few small drain holes in the base. This is precautionary measure as the completed box should remain dry inside.

 

Step 5

Making sure that you have the entrance hole nearest the top, place the front section on and nail it to the sides and base.

 

 

Step 6

Nail the rubber strip to the roof section first,  and then nail the flap to the back section. Hinging the lid in this way means you can easily access the box to clean it out at the end of the season should it be required.

 

 

Step 7

As a further precaution against predation, add the hook and eye to the lid. It will also stop any gusts of wind flipping the lid up.

 

Step 8

Decide on the location for your new nest box choosing a sheltered spot 2 metres or more above the ground. Face it between northeast and southeast so it avoids the worst of the weather and is not exposed to too much sun.