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Johanna Atsma-De Boer

Garden Blog January 2023

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2022 seems to have been the year of the number 17:

17 jars of stewed pears (from our own Dutch pear tree)

17 bottles of apple wine (from apples very kindly given to me by various customers and friends)

17 bottles of grape wine (from Scottish grapes given to me by a very kind customer, who got 100kg from a friend and aptly named ‘Grapeheart’)

17 tonnes per hectare of fruit & vegetables

‘Tonnes per hectare’ is a measurement used in agriculture to value the productivity of a farm. We don’t have a hectare and we didn’t grow 17 tonnes (which is 17 000 kg), but I’ve converted my own kilos to tonnes and the size of my vegetable garden to hectares.
I think this is pretty good considering that I don’t use any artificial fertilizers or pesticides.

I like working with numbers and keeping track on how much I’ve grown and to compare it with previous years and there definitely is an increase in our yields over the years. Adding compost to the soil every year, not digging too much and also growing green manure (an overwinter crop meant for leaving to die back) improves the quality of the soil massively and thus increases the yields. This is confirmed by various studies which all looked into different aspects of soil and yields of food. I am just obsessed with soil and thankfully I can experiment endlessly in my own back garden (I took 32 soil samples last year as part of my Natural Sciences study).

fieldfare feeding on berries

Another thing I’ve been keeping track on is the variety of birds seen in my garden and that has also been increasing over the years: we had 18 different bird species in 2015, but in 2022 we had 30 different species! Furthermore there is an index used by biologists to measure the biodiversity of an area (Simpson’s Diversity Index, should you be interested) and when I calculated our index value using my previous RSPB bird watches, I discovered that this too had increased and is now a very healthy 0.91, where the maximum value can only be 1. You see just by cutting out pesticides, leaving a couple of wild areas and planting some shrubs and small trees you can do your bit to help nature.

The chickens have been allowed in our back garden (they normally only roam the fields) and they loved it! I my naivety I thought that they would eat overwintering pests and fertilise the soil at the same time, but I forgot that they can also be little white feathered bulldozers! One of the white chickens could not leave the rhubarb plant alone and I watched as she purposely set out to dig up the entire plant. I couldn’t let that happen of course and had to put some wire over it, after which she tried to continue but discovered that standing on hard wire was not very pleasant and the was plant saved.

white chickens in snow

Harvey, the young cockerel, is losing his boyish peeps and his voice is starting to break. In other words, he will soon start crowing and the first couple of times are quite funny as he looks startled and he doesn’t know himself what is happening. As it so happens, on the last day of the year he stood at our back door, showing off his newly discovered crowing! It is quite cute, until he starts crowing at 4 am in the middle of summer.

The chickens are all back in the fields again, because, well, let’s just say that our sitting area is well fertilised!

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Johanna Atsma-De Boer

Garden Blog January 2020

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Now that the days are getting longer again (and colder), it’s time to start planning for the new growing season. Not that I can start sowing outside just yet, but it isn’t too far off now... perhaps late January or maybe early February I will be able to sow my sweet peppers and chilli peppers indoors. It’s always exciting to think about what to grow. I’ve decided I might not grow as many onions this season; not that they are hard to grow, but to be able to store them over winter, you have to dry them properly and with Scotland’s changeable weather this can be quite bothersome. Try getting at least 4 consecutive sunny days with no chance of rain at all - it isn’t easy! Anyway, organic onions from the supermarket are not that expensive to buy - and let’s face it, who needs the stress?

But what I’ll do with the empty onion beds I really don’t know yet, perhaps I’ll sow some green manure. Green manure is a way of preventing soil lying bare; basically you sow special plants which have a purpose. For example, you can sow field beans which restore nitrogen (a very important nutrient) to the soil, or you can sow mustard which keeps wireworm away (those same beasties which have been munching on my tatties last month!).

upside down plastic pots

My half-hour-a-day gardening routine hasn’t stopped just because it’s winter; I have started washing all the used pots from last summer. Again, by doing just one bucket full in my half hour, it seems a lot less work and I am actually amazed that I have found the time to clean up and be ever-so-slightly better organised this year. It’s important to keep the greenhouse clean, but sometimes you simply just don’t have the time. Although I am now faced with a pile of pots in which my large, eight legged friends might reside, I have my brave husband JP on hand to evict these unwelcome squatters so I can clean the spider-free pots.

Remember how I created a bird border bursting with berry producing bushes to attract birds? Well, attract them they have! Birds of all shapes and sizes love them! I even spotted our resident pheasant, Cedric, munching on the berberis berries which grow slightly higher up than the other berries. At first I had mixed feelings about this non-native bird eating the berries, but after all it’s not his fault that he has been released by us humans, and I suppose technically he is a bird so why not let him gorge himself in the bird border? The more the merrier, I say. There have been partridges as well close to our home, but so far I have only seen them outside our garden, maybe the fence is too high for them to fly across?


Speaking of birds; Robinto has returned! Well, to be honest, it probably isn’t the same Robinto who first graced our garden with his presence in 2018, because robins only live for a maximum of 2 years. Who knows, this new robin (‘Robinto Mark II’), may be the offspring of the original Robinto. He waits in the chicken coop for me to give him a few tasty titbits and even pecks at the chicken food while Tufty is right next to him. He’s a bold one, this robin! When Tufty gets too close for comfort he quickly hops onto the chicken swing, clever bird!

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