2009 was another busy year at the Sustainable Smallholding, with changes to the management of my bees, an increase in the number of chickens, and hives, the addition of ducks, the creation of swales, and lots of experimental growing. This included growing tobacco, manuka, eucalyptus, acacia, small scale wheat growing etc. So I thought that I’d do a short summary, and a look forward to my plans for next year.
The one thing that went badly this year was food production, so badly, that we’re buying in vegetables now, whereas we’ve not had to do that much for the last couple of years. I think that there were two main reasons for that. Firstly, I was trying to do too many other things, and the basics suffered. Secondly, we were ravaged by pigeons, rabbits, and rats. This was probably related to the first cause as well. Not only did we lose a lot of our food, but some of what I grew was never harvested.
In order to combat this, I’m going to consolidate all of the vegetable growing into a single area, where I can concentrate my efforts more efficiently.
This year we added ten battery hens, and a Light Sussex cockerel to our tally of chickens, and ten ducks later in the year. This has again added to the workload, and we are producing far more eggs than we can use. The surplus is sold, but until the price of food starts to rise as a consequence of Peak Oil, we’ll barely be breaking even.
I intend to consolidate the two larger flocks into one, and create a new poultry forage system for them. This will utilise one of the vegetable growing areas that I am relinquishing. I am thinking carefully about the design, and will probably incorporate nut, and fruit production in the forage system. I have to be aware of the proximity of honey fungus to this space, and look at those trees and shrubs that are tolerant of it.
I increased the number of hives from two to six, by buying in new queens, and splitting the hives quite hard. This did cause a few problems, and one of the older hives never accepted a queen, even when they had reared one of their own. I also had two swarms fly into bait hives. Of the two, one looks well, but the other appeared to be failing at the end of the Summer.
I also changed the way that I manage my bees, no longer intruding into their home, and accepting a reduced honey crop, in return for a lower input of effort. I will need to extra vigilant next year to capture my own swarms, and to attract more of the other swarms from the area. I missed at least two this year, before I increased the size of the bait hives.
I intend to re house most of this years new swarms in Warre hives, only using conventional hives for those that I intend to sell.
I also helped two beginners, and managed hives for a local farm.This was another area where my time was taken up.
This year I devoted quite a bit of time to growing new plants, mainly for future bee forage. An exception to this was an experiment to see how easy it was to grow wheat on a small scale. A friend had said that it takes about 1 sq meter of wheat to make a loaf of bread, which means that a ten by ten patch of wheat would grow enough for two loaves a week, for a year. I also wanted to try the Bon Fils method, where you plant the wheat at 18 inch spacings, and allow it to produce more tillers. The wheat grew really well, and produced lots of ears, all of which was eaten by pigeons and rats. The pigeons knocked the wheat over, and the rats ate whatever was on the ground. I’m glad that it happened, as I now know that if I decide to up the amount, I will need to find a way to protect the crop.
The tobacco growing worked well, with the plants reaching about 5 feet tall. I had to start the seeds off in a greenhouse, and plant out after the last frost, but I wanted to see if it would grow. Whilst I’m not a smoker, I figure that in the future, it will be a great crop for trading. I would like to grow some under cover, in order to experiment with seed saving.
Most of the trees and shrubs that I tried to grow, succeeded. Most are marginal in our climate, but are good for my bees. I want to grow them on, with the minimum of protection, and then try to collect seed from the survivors. My hope is that each generation will be hardier, and better adapted to my own local conditions. I was surprised at how well Small leaved Lime germinated. I didn’t bother with conventional stratification, and just sowed into two clay pots, and left them in an unheated greenhouse. I now have 25 small seedlings, and some of the seed which didn’t germinate is still viable. I also grew seven varieties of Eucalyptus. Last Winter, I gave the seedlings that I grew some protection, but this year’s batch have been left to fend for themselves. Tough love, but better for me in the long run.
Next year, I want to set up a small area as a tree nursery. Many of the trees that I’m growing are not common, and I’m hoping that there may be a market for my surplus. if not, I’m going to give some away to my neighbours, so that I increase the forage available for my bees.
Permaculture has featured quite strongly this year. Along with a friend, I did an Introduction session for the Lincolnshire organic gardeners (LOGO), and ran an introduction course at Riseholme college. At home, I’m still working on an improved design for the Smallholding.
I’ve built Swales, some of which might evolve into a productive aquatic system, planted trees, for firewood and bee forage, and spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to do with the place. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to create a one acre food forest, which will also include the aquatic system, and perhaps some terracing. This idea is not new, but I’ve been thinking it through very carefully. I think that i don’t need the space for firewood, and it would be useful to see how productive the acre could be made. I’m hoping that it allow me to reduce the area of annual vegetable production down to a minimum, concentrating on crops for Winter storage.
We had to have three of our dogs put to sleep this year, leaving us with just four retired greyhounds left. two are still out in the kennels, and will come indoors next month. This will leave me with a large structure, which will probably evolve into a very large block and glass greenhouse. Possibly incorporating an area heated by wood/solar hot water. The money for this will not be available for some time, so it will wait until then.
The things that I need to do next year are as follows:
Continue tree planting early in the year, including whips to use as rootstocks for grafting in the future.
Consolidate vegetable growing into one area, improve protection, and reconfigure the raised beds.
Create Poultry forage system, including fencing, covered scratching area, and food plants.
Level out sites for new beehives, build more hives, put out more bait hives.
Make a tree nursery area, away from honey fungus, or in containers.
Put up new greenhouse, and experiment with DIY polytunnel/frame.
Create more pond space, providing that the current one retains water through the Summer.
Looking at the list, I guess that I didn’t learn much from this year’s mistakes, and that next year will be just as manic.