After much hard work preparing our home, we have embarked on an objective to be self-sufficient in food terms. We do have limited land to achieve this, but with luck, perseverance and clever use of rotation in the soil, we may come close. This is what we are developing and growing. You will be able to follow our progress, both our highs and lows on the English Country Life blog page.
We have 12 raised beds each of 25 foot long by 4 foot wide. The 4ft width would allow us to comfortably weed or tend the beds from either side without us ever having to stand on the soil, reducing the risk of the soil compacting.
We have grown and have attempted to grow:
Courgettes: Wow were these successful. Four plants were far too many and we found we just didn’t eat that many so now we operate a barter system with a neighbour when we need courgettes with the neighbour happy to take gluts of other food we grow.
Sugar beet: One year only so we could experiment at making our own sugar, just to see if we could. We could and it was fun.
Brussels sprouts: As yet, we have not managed to get the hang of growing sprouts so that they form tight sprouts. It may be again that sprouts may be abandoned as unsuccessful even though the chickens like it when we fail! They love eating the plants.
Sweet corn: the cobs formed well, but we lost the crop in a high wind. If we manage to find a dwarf variety, we may try again.
Carrots: A great crop for us. Very successful each year and we eat lots of them. Roasted, boiled, raw and in soups.
Parsnips: Very, very successful again and a great favourite for us. Lots of baby parsnips in the freezer.
Potatoes: Having tried potatoes in the raised beds and lost them to blight, we now grow them in old compost sacks as a first early variety only. We then buy a 25kg sack at the farm gate for £5-£6 when we need main crop varieties.
Onions: We grow a lot of these as the over-wintering variety, spring and grown from seed. We also do not discriminate in colour and grow both red and white. Always successful for us.
Shallots: These are a necessity for us and we thrive on pickled onions!
Garlic: Very abundant and we can never grow enough.
Peas: the bush pea variety only. They grow very well for us and we get a very sweet crop.
Field beans: these are normally grow by farmers as a green mulch but we found them very tasty and we harvest a lot as seed to plant again next year in much larger quantities
Oca: Lemony South American potatoes that are not subject to blight. So far they seem very happy, but do need watering in dry spells. They do not like desiccated soil. They can crop well, but it’s a long time before they can be harvested so this is one we may drop.
Yacon: This is a member of the daisy family, but forms large edible tubers underground. They do need staking to prevent the top growth breaking off in high winds.
Spring Onion, lettuce, radish & white beetroot: All of these are grown in succession very successfully in a section of raised bed allocated to salads.
Butternut squash: We grew these once and once only. 4 plants took over an area that we had planted some gooseberries in. It was a constant battle to stop them swamping the poor little gooseberry plants.
Pumpkins: These grow very well, but having learnt our lesson from the butternut squash, they are grown away in areas of the garden specifically allocated to them.
Cabbages/Cauliflowers/Sprouting broccoli: These are exceptionally successful and feed both us and the chickens.
Chard: Very successful and useful to feed the chickens and us as leaves in salad replacing lettuce and wilted like spinach.
Kale: A new crop for 2015. We know the chickens like it, but we’re not sure if we will!
In the scheme of things, our fruit trees most likely do not qualify as an orchard, but are instead, only a small collection of productive trees.
The land that we selected to grow them on was a stagnant bog area when we bought the house. By installing land drainage and grading the soil for a proper water run-off, we regained a large section of potentially productive land.
We decided to go for half standard trees on an MM106 root stock so that they would be big enough for us to comfortably drive the ride-on mower around, but not so tall that harvesting the fruit would be difficult.
The trees we chose were:
Sweet chestnut: We selected 2 trees.
Comice pear: Only one tree Louise Bonne of Jersey which has a reputation for the fruit keeping well in storage
Apples: Our varieties are Sunset, a Bramley, Fiesta, Adams Pearmain, Crispin, Ashmeads Kernel, Lord Lambourne and James Grieves. They are all growing well and fruiting well. No apple has yet gone to waste with them being eaten, cooked with and dehydrated for extra-long storage.
Cherries: 3 eating cherry trees of a variety called Sunburst and a cooking variety Morello. They do produce fruit, but in retrospect I don’t think I would have bothered as the trees need netting to stop the birds eating them which is very fiddley and there just aren’t that many cherries.
Plums: A variety called Opal and a golden gage called Oullins. These are taking a long time to establish and do not appear to be productive.
Crab Apple: Acts as an all-round pollinator and provides fruits high in pectin to set our jam. A really useful tree.
Strawberries: these are extremely successful. We allowed the plants to run so they could fully establish. The plants came from an exchange for garaging in one of our barns for a neighbour's vintage cars for a few months.
Gooseberries: We have around 60 gooseberry plants which have had a great year with more fruit than we could eat followed by an extremely disappointing year where all the fruit were affected by a fungus which rotted it before it ripened.
Raspberries/Blackberries & Tayberries: Set in a fruit cage near the vegetable patch. These are established and very successful.
Sloes & Bullaces. We have around 200 metres of hedging with these fruits. We usually invite the neighbours to take whatever they want as there is more fruit than we can ever hope to use.
Figs: There are two very productive small trees in the greenhouses
When the greenhouses are not being used to over-winter potted plants or to start seeds off, they produce a huge amount of chillies and tomatoes, two foods that we absolutely love. Excess chillies are frozen for use all year round and excess tomatoes are processed into canned tomato and lentil soup.
With both crops we plant multiple varieties each year which gives is some variance of flavour but also a longer season when the fruit can be eaten fresh from the plant.
One additional plant that is grown over summer in the greenhouse is one lonely cucumber plant. One plant will produce just enough fruit for 2 people with a little excess at its peak. The excess is normally bartered with a neighbour for something more useful