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.

Two Years Later…

Aside

I’ve just noticed that it’s almost 2 years to the day since I started this blog of random ramblings about poultry (in particular chickens) and gardening projects. Back when I started I recall saying at the time that some of the stuff would probably be best put in a book and oddly enough it is now, in fact in two books with another going through the editing process as I type… there’s also a bit of a cameo on a DVD due out soon. It’s been an interesting evolution that’s for sure.

So, a quick thanks to those of you who subscribe to the blog, I hope I haven’t bored you too much and thanks too to the sponsors I’ve had over the last couple of years and here’s to the almost 100,000 visitors who have dropped by for a read. It’ll be interesting to look back in another couple of years.

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Recognise these characters?

Aside

I get sent quite a few bits of poultry paraphernalia from kit, to houses, dietary supplements to books as I’m always more than happy to give things a field trial on my own flocks.

I’ll always give the stuff a good go and let the supplier know my thoughts, no matter how candid. Lets face it, there’s a lot of chickenailia hitting the market, some of it produced by people trying to make a quick buck but by equal measure a fair chunk is produced by people or firms genuinely trying to aid the backyard keeper and only when give some good honest constructive feedback will they be able to improve or enhance the product.

It’s nice though to be simply sent something that needs no testing, doesn’t need dragging through a field or pouring on a pile of red mite and that’s just what I got sent from Sarah McKenzie at Stopham Garden Poultry (@stophampoultry). Sarah is an illustrator who takes on commissions for pet portraits but also produces greetings cards which I have to say I rather like as they do capture the attitude of one or two chickens I know! Here’s a few of her pictures.

HEN3 HEN2 HEN1

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.

Are things a bit late this year?

Its a question asked quite frequently when it comes to gardening or the flora and fauna of the countryside but for me I can’t say I can always provide evidence to support my answer. Ok I know the date when the swallows return or the first chiff chaff call but thats based on whether I’m paying attention and could, for all I know, be out by a few days or even weeks.

I was out taking some photo’s the other day and that was when some real evidence landed in my lap…. there are precisely 2yrs and 22minutes between these two pictures of the same oak tree… I guess that answers my question for this year at least!

May 12th 2010

 

May 12th 2012

 

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.

April: always a mixed month weather-wise

April in many ways represents a mid-point in the change from winter to summer. Its weather is well known for its April showers, it’s also well known for its changeability. I recall one day many years back when all four seasons occurred on one April day, from glorious sunshine through to snow. It particularly sticks in my mind as it was the day I was married! As such it’s a month that you make the most of the good weather and don’t grumble about the bad. With the dry winters we have had recently almost all rain is useful rain at this stage of the year.

4th April 2012. The snow started to fall. The previous week I'd been sitting in that chair in that exact spot in 23c sunshine

 

Four days later... 8th April 2012... sunshine & blooms

 

 

As the seasons turn, so does the wildlife in the garden. Bees and butterflies will be seen more frequently, warming themselves in the rays of sunshine. The resident birds will be well on the way to making nests and the females will soon begin to brood. Most of the winter migrants will have left leaving behind a few stragglers who will catch up later. New birds will be reaching our shores as the summer migration begins in earnest.

 

The vegetable garden will seem empty as most of the winter crops will have been used and without the aid of a greenhouse it’s unlikely that there will be anything to new to harvest but no matter, abundance will soon return. Around the garden there will be a flush of colour with daffodils fritillaries and tulips are bursting into flower. In the shrubbery flowering currants put on a show whilst forsythia and magnolia compliment them with dainty yellows and bold, creamy whites. As the month wears on the weather continues to improve and the intensity of colour within the garden shines through to meet the warmer, longer days.

Six days after the covering of snow and the garden bursts into life, the white snow replaced by white blossom

 

(If you are wondering what the chicken house is in the middle of the shot is a recycled plastic coop from Solway Recycling Limited – rather discreet and handy for the free range garden gang)

But remember the opening comment… the weather can and will change as April plays host to the contest between the seasons, taking two steps to the right looking out across the field and winter was dinging the bell for Round 2…..

A hail storm readies itself in the grey corner....