01 June We have finished sowing all our grain (barley, oats and wheat) and the garden is mostly full up, theoretically that is, as it still looks very much like bare soil. I have planted out the pumpkins, courgettes and gherkins and I’m hoping for the best. Last year it was almost a total disaster, and most of the pumpkins were either severly stunted or died- it was only one plant that flourished and managed to produce a grand total of two delicious spaghetti pumpkins! It was a similar story with the gherkins but the courgettes managed to produce quite alot. Unfortunately the weather is terrible now, we’ve been having alot of rain, which I think is not so good for them. I’ve started making a kind of sauerkraut out of wild plants- I have no idea if it will work, but I’ve heard of other people doing it. I used yarrow, sorrel, nettle and caraway leaves, and just layered them in a jar with salt and pressed it down to release the juices. It is now sitting in a corner of the kitchen where it will hopefully ferment.
3rd June We had some truly horrific weather the last couple of days, went down to 1 degree celcius one night, then hovered around 3-6 degrees for a day or so, along with rain and ALOT of wind. Needless to say, the curcubits suffered. Several gherkins lost their lives, and many more are severely injured. I realised too late what was happening but I mulched them with dry straw to try and protect them. The pumpkins and courgettes are clinging on for dear life, but I must have faith in this difficult time. The cabbages and kale just laughed of corse, both at the pathetic curcubits and my foolishness of trying to grow such a tender crop, in such a harsh place. But nobody expects near zero temperatures in June! Maybe a few more years and I’ll give up, but not yet. Oh no. The fruit trees are just coming into leaf, slowly, and the wheat and barley is starting to declare itself. Dan and the woofers have started fencing, while I play around with compost. My love for the stuff only deepens, and one of my greatest ambitions at the moment is to make really good compost. The kind of stuff that is so bursting with vitality that the plants will turn green at the thought of it. Fortunately for me, we have a huge variety of organic matter which needs attention. There’s the bedding from the animals, moss and ruined hay from preserving vegetables, manure from the winter enclosure, some 40 year old sheep manure from one of the manure cellars, and horse, cow, chicken, rabbit and human manure! (Don’t know what the cats do with theirs, but it’s rather selfish.) There’s also quite alot of rotting wood about the place, of which i have made various piles, slowly being digested by funghi and worms. I’ve been reading a very good book called “the humanure handbook” which not only has a very detailed exposition of modern sewage disposal, but also explains the inner workings of compost and how to make it right! The main reason I am reading it is to learn more about composting our humanure (our shit). It’s important that the pile becomes bacterially active so that any disease organisms are outcompeted by other bacteria, and thus die, rendering the compost safe to use on our land for food production. It’s also important that nutrients are conserved- if there is too much nitrogen for example it will just be lost as ammonia, and valuable soil nutrients are wasted. If there is too much carbon then the micro-organisms will struggle to digest it, and the compost will take a long time to fully biodegrade. So basically, I’m learning how to make our own poo into a safe and very effective fertilliser. Much better than flushing it away if you ask me! If you are interested in making humanure or are just curious as to why anyone wouldn’t use a flushing toilet- read this. It’s online or you can download it chapter by chapter for free. http://humanurehandbook.com/contents.html (It’s also just amusing if you’re bored) As i sit here I am frequently disturbed by the sound of frantic cheeping and general kurfuffle, coming from the incubator behind the stove. Four chicks have hatched so far, and many more are poking their beaks out of their shell to see what all the fuss is about. If they finish hatching tomorrow we will take them out to the barn, where they will receive the love of a heating lamp, and the sharp glares of their curious elders. 7th June On friday we released the sheep out into the wild! We spent thursday shearing them. I had never sheared a sheep before so I’m not exactly skilled to say the least. With Ramson his wool was in really good condition and had loosened, as is common for his breed, so we just pulled it from him in handfulls. He had a very short and fluffy coat underneath, and much of the long cover hairs remained too, including his impressive chest hair! It only took about 10 minutes to remove his whole fleece, and he didn’t seem to mind. The ewes however were another story. Much of their wool was very felted, and thus impossible to pull. Often the wool around their rump came away easily, but around the shoulders and back it was stuck fast. We had some old fashioned shears (they’re just like big and very pointy scissors), which we used to cut the rest of the fleece from them. It took us the whole day to shear five sheep! We also tagged the lambs, and put bells on all the mothers. The following day we chased them out of the gate, and watched five naked ewes and five fat lambs jingle off up the hill, into the forest. Ramson had to stay behind and has gone to join the cows on the pasture. He was not so happy to be abandoned, and escaped from the enclosure several times on the first day. After the recent improvements to the fence, however, there haven’t been any breakouts. There was one break-in though: a white ewe, without lambs turned up in the pasture to join Ramson, Hornfagr, and Audhumbla. As pleased as he was to have a new girlfriend, we soon sent her on her way. 8th June Every single one of my gherkins, courgettes, and pumpkins have now perished! May they rest in peace. I have learned the hard way that it isn’t always safe to plant them out at the beginning of June, without protection. If I had paid closer attention to the temperature I might have been able to save them, but it never occurred to me that they could actually die. On the bright side, the weather has cheered up, and things are sprouting left, right and centre! The cabbages and romanesco are growing steadily, and the snow peas i sowed about a month ago have suddenly decided to show their faces! The seedsaving kale is just about to flower, while the chard still shows no sign of wanting to flower at all! We have finally planted our main crop potatoes. It’s quite late really, but we’ve had a lot of rain recently so we had to wait until the soil dried up again. We tried to use a horse drawn potato plough, but it was awkward to handle. We managed to make the furrows but didn’t risk trying to go between the rows after we had planted the potatoes, so we just covered them by hand. We will try to ridge them when they come up, in a few weeks. Today we finished sowing the swedes, (all 5,000 of them!) which took two of us two days. Of the field crops, only the turnips are waiting to be sown, but they grow extremely fast, so it’s no rush. 26th June Everything is growing really fast now, the grain fields are green, the hayfield is bursting into bloom, and the cabbages seem to double in size every few days. We’ve planted out the onions, finally and so far they are surviving. Last year all except five were killed by wireworms, which eat their way up into the stem. This year I waited until they were a bit bigger, so hopefully they will be stronger and less tempting to the larvae. Today we thinned the turnips, which were from seed I saved last year. The germination was brilliant, so it seems my first seedsaving ventures were successful! The spinach I have sown is also from our own seed, and is also doing really well. The same i cannot say for the carrots. I did just half a row as i had my doubts that the seed was mature and it seems i was right- nothing came up. Im trying again this year, and I planted them out earlier, so I’m hoping for the best. The kale is flowering now, so im sure we will get masses of seed from that. The chard I planted out at the same time is still showing no signs of flowering whatsoever! I wonder if it just takes longer or if keeping it in the cellar meant it didnt get the right stimulation to flower. It’s looking lush and green though so if it doesn’t hurry up I’m just going to start eating it. We have started harvesting leaves for winter feed for the animals. We cut down branches and break off the leafy ends to tie up in bundles using a small birch or spruce branch. Then we either hang them up in the trees or just lean them against the trunks to dry. It sounds quite simple but the tricky part is tying the bundles- there is a special technique where you twist the branch to make it flexible enough. If you don’t do it right then it just snaps. At the moment it takes me about 15 minutes just to tie one, and thats after preparing the leaves. Apparently in the olden days one man and one women were expected to make 360 in one day. We have a long way to go! The dried leaves are a nutritious supplement for the cows and the sheep in the winter, and probably a necessary one, as part of our hayfield has now been converted to pasture.