27 July 2015

Lentil harvest (part 2)

The pillowcase-and-baseball-bat threshing technique worked well to release the lentils from their pods. Then I removed the stems of the plants and tipped the remaining material from one plastic container to another, in a light breeze, to winnow out the last bits of straw and seed-pods.

From about 20 lentil plants, I recovered about half a cup of lentils (80g). Enough for one meal, perhaps, which perhaps doesn't sound too impressive. There are around 160 lentils in 5g, which gives a total yield of around 2,650 lentils in my batch.  I probably only sowed about 20 lentils to begin with, so that's a return of 13,150% on my initial investment, which is nothing to sniff at.

I'll keep a lot of these seeds for next year and grow a bigger patch outside, if I can devise a way of protecting the seedlings from rabbits!

23 July 2015

New harvests

I'm growing lentils this year and the time has come to harvest my first crop. Last year I tried growing them outside and every last plant was eaten by rabbits. This year I grew them in the greenhouse for a bit more protection.

I've been doing some research to find out the best way of processing the crop, and it seems that pulling the entire plant and leaving it to dry for a few days is the best approach. Then I should be able to thresh the plants by putting them in a pillowcase and bashing them about a bit, before separating the lentils from the straw.

Out of curiosity, I broke open a few of the pods to see what the lentils look like. The variety is Le Puy, which is the famous lentil grown in that region of France. There, they grow in a volcanic soil which gives them a unique flavour and in the European Union you can only call a lentil a Le Puy lentil if it is grown in that region. I suppose those types of rules don't apply outside the EU, but I don't know what you're supposed to call a Le Puy lentil if you grow it somewhere else! They are an interesting colour: basically green, but with blue marbling on them.

The other crops I've been researching harvesting techniques for are those in my 'grain patch' for this year. These are also new for me. From right to left in the picture below are: hull-less oats, Sangatsuga barley and Red Fife wheat. There's quite a bit of hop-clover growing underneath them, which I've left there, as it adds nitrogen to the soil and I don't think is doing the grains any harm.

These aren't ready to harvest yet, but they are definitely changing colour. Here they are in more detail - the oats:

The barley:

And the wheat:

My plan for these so far is to save the grain and sow a bigger patch next year, with the eventual aim of using it as feed for the chickens. Or maybe even eating it ourselves!

06 July 2015

Belated Canada Day blooms

I generally start the growing season with some sort of plan for the front garden bed that I can see from the kitchen window, but they rarely work as I expect them to. I grew cosmos this year, but only two of the plants survived and they are currently very tiny and spindly.  I also planted some miniature sunflowers, which have come up and should be flowering soon.

Star of the show at the moment though are these poppies, which I am fairly sure I did not sow. I don't know where they came from, but they're very pretty, and with the cilantro blooming at the same time, they are looking very patriotic. Shame they came out just after Canada Day!

A lot of this bed is given over to perennial edibles: sage, lovage, borage and horseradish, so the annuals have to be squeezed in between those. The bees and wasps love the borage and lovage: at one point this week I counted eight blue mud dauber wasps enjoying the lovage flowers. These wasps aren't at all aggressive and they eat spiders, so if you're not of fan of spiders, these are the good guys!

02 July 2015

A greenhouse perambulation

There are six raised beds in our greenhouse and at this time of year they're all in use for various crops. I love going in there and checking on progress, tidying things up and pulling weeds or overgrown lettuces. There are a lot of the latter: I let some of last year's lettuce go to seed and lots of it came up in the spring, in addition to what I sowed myself. Luckily the chickens adore it, overgrown or not, so it doesn't go to waste.

Bed 1 is the first one we built. This year it is full of a range of heirloom tomato plants, with some basil and the inevitable lettuce plant (I'll save the seeds from the two dark red ones you can see in the front here). Most other years I've had problems with blossom end rot on the big tomatoes, but so far so good this year. I put a good layer of chicken manure in this bed before planting it, so maybe that has helped.

Bed 2, the next one along, houses a huge sage bush and some more basil and lettuce (out of shot here). There are three okra plants in this bed - they are only just getting growing properly now, after a cool start to the season. They really need the protection of the greenhouse to put on growth, but they should take off in the next few weeks. There is already one pod forming on the biggest plant - although I managed to miss seeing the flower open! Behind them are a few late tomato plants (sown after I lost the outside ones to the late May frost). The white flower is a cilantro/coriander plant. They are great for attracting pollinators.

Bed 3 was my brassica nursery bed and I left a couple of kale plants in there for an earlier crop - they're producing lots of leaves already, while the ones I transplanted outside are about half this size. Behind the kale are lentils - my first year of successfully growing these (the rabbits got them last year when I sowed them outside!). In the rest of this bed I replaced the transplanted brassicas with beets and some carrots. They are being bothered by a nest of ants, so I've transplanted some sage into the bed, because ants aren't supposed to like it. Doesn't seem to be having any effect so far, though!

Bed 4 was my pea, parsnip and lettuce bed. The peas (Green Arrow and Little Marvel, with Oregon Sugar Snap at the back) are going over now, but I'll keep some to save as seed. I'm slowly pulling up the lettuce for the chickens and in the centre of this bed are my eggplants. Like the okra, they've been slowed up by the cool weather we've been having, but this week they've started to put on more growth and I'm hopeful they'll produce a good crop. It'll help when I pull out the peas which have been shading them, too. I've got three eggplant varieties this year: Applegreen, Korean Early Long and Rosa Bianca. They are all from Baker Creek, although they don't seem to do the Korean Early Long variety any more. These were from a 2012 seed packet, mind you!

Bed 5 is mainly peppers, with some carrots, beets, chard, later-sown tomatoes and already-going-to-seed spinach (I'll save that, too). This bed was also full of self-sown dill and I've been steadily pulling that out to avoid having the same problem next year! Most of the peppers are doing fine - I've put tomato cages round them to give them a bit of extra support before the fruit start coming. I find tomato cages good for peas and cucumbers, too. Note that I use stakes for the actual tomatoes!

A few of the peppers are very pale and a bit small - I'm not sure if this is a defect of the variety (I have failed to label them, as usual!) or a defect of their soil. Since they are all growing in the same place, it would be odd if that were the case, but I'll have to wait for the fruit to form to see if it's the variety that's the problem.

Bed 6 was only supposed to be melons and cucumbers, but the self-sown lettuce took over in here - even growing on the floor! There's still quite a lot of dill in this bed, too.

I haven't grown watermelons before and I didn't realise how huge the plants get. I pulled the cart up to support this one melon, but it's already grown through the end of the cart. I think it's going to take over the whole greenhouse!