Transform a weedy eyesore into a veg garden in a weekend.

1 Comment

We all have areas of our garden that could do with a bit of a tidy up, we had one that seemed to be permanently covered in weeds and it made for a depressing view from our bedroom windows in the morning. Something had to be done, so we came up with this plan to turn it into an attractive and productive little garden area. It was fairly inexpensive and very quick to do, especially if you can rope in a few children to help out!

A desolate, weed prone area.

A desolate, weed prone area.

We began by purchasing some ready made raised vegie beds, but if you’re unable to buy these, you can make your own out of any suitable materials you have to hand, old apple crates also make great raised vegie beds. We moved them around until we were happy with what their final positions would be.

Level the area if needed.

Level the area if needed.

Next, we levelled the area with some sand so that our raised beds would sit nice and flat.

Rolling our the anti weed mat.

Rolling out the anti weed mat.

We rolled out anti weed matting across the entire area to hopefully cut down on the return of the dreaded weeds later on.

The raised beds on top of the weed mat.

The raised beds on top of the weed mat.

The raised beds were then placed in their final positions on top of the weed mat.

Time to shovel dirt!

Time to shovel dirt!

Next, we filled our raised beds with some soil suitable for growing veggies.

Raised beds ready to be planted up.

Raised beds ready to be planted up.

We planted our raised beds up with a variety of different veg, including cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes and eggplant.

The transformation is complete.

The transformation is complete.

Finally, we covered the weed mat in a thick layer of gravel to complete the transformation.

So now we another productive area in our garden and we’ve banished the ugly view fro our bedroom too.
If you can think of an area in your garden that could do with some TLC, why not try this simple idea.

A quick guide to shade tolerant vegetables.

4 Comments

The perceived wisdom about growing veg is that it needs full sun for at least six hours a day. However, you needn’t despair if you have a fairly shaded garden, there is some veg that will grow with fewer hours of sun.

As a general rule, veg that you grow for it’s fruits, for example, tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum, eggplant etc. will need their full six hours of sun to be really productive. However, plants that you grow for it’s leaves, lettuce and spinach, and roots, carrots and beetroot, will grow on as little as four hours a day. Also peas and beans are fairly shade tolerant and will produce well with fewer sunny hours than other veg.

Here’s a quick rundown for you.

Leafy veg such as lettuce and spinach.

Leafy veg such as lettuce and spinach.

Leafy veg, such as lettuce and spinach need only three to four hours of sun a day. The same applies to other leafy veg such as Asian greens and Kale.

Many herbs will grow in partially shaded conditions.

Many herbs will grow in partially shaded conditions.

There are many herbs that will grow in less than perfect conditions. If you can’t spare a spot in full sun all day, you should grow mint, parsley, oregano and chives.

carrots don't mind reduced sun hours.

carrots don’t mind reduced sun hours.

Root vegetables such as carrots, beetroot and radishes will cope with four to five hours of sun a day, although they will take longer to mature than the same plants grown in six or more hours of sun a day.

peas and beans will grow in partial shade.

peas and beans will grow in partial shade.

Another great crop that will get by on four hours of sun a day are peas and beans, although, as in the case of root veg, they will be slower growing than the same crop grown in six hours of full sun a day.

So, you can see from our short guide that it’s absolutely possible to grow a great variety of different vegetables and herbs even if your garden has less than ideal conditions in the sunny hours department. Start sowing that lettuce now!

Raising chicks : broody hen or incubator?

6 Comments

We began raising our own chicks this year on Franger Farm using both an incubator and a broody hen. We had varying degrees of success with each method and have discovered that they both have their pros and cons. So, which one is right for you? maybe you’ll be like us and give both a go. Here we discuss some of the good and bad points so that you can make up your own mind.

Broody hen.

A good broody hen will take care of everything for you.

A good broody hen will take care of everything for you.

The best thing about letting a broody hen hatch and raise chicks for you is just that, a broody hen will hatch and raise chicks for you, no major input required. However, we have discovered that there are a few things that need to be considered when you’re using a broody. Firstly, you cannot choose the timing of your hen’s broodiness, she’ll become broody when she feels like it and she won’t be interested in sitting on eggs until she is. Secondly, your hen will decide how many eggs she wants to sit on, our broody will only sit on two at a time, despite being a light sussex which is a fairly large bird. Our broody also managed to break one of the eggs she was sitting on quite early on and we had to separate her from the rest of the flock so that she could sit without being hassled and we didn’t have to worry about her chicks being attacked by the other hens or the rooster. We also didn’t know what sort of mother our broody would be, not all hens make great mothers, some will lose interest in their chicks when they hatch and others may even kill them. There’s no way to know what sort of mother your broody will make until she’s raised her first chick, so it’s worth giving your her a test run before you put any expensive fertile eggs under her. The big advantage of a broody comes into play once the chicks are hatched. The hen will teach the chicks to drink, eat and look for bugs, the chicks will also be naturally integrated into the flock, under the watchful eye of it’s mother.

Incubator.

An incubator allows you to control the timing of the hatch.

An incubator allows you to control the timing of the hatch.

There’s no denying that using an incubator is high maintenance when compared to using a broody hen, there are some advantages though. The main ones are that you are in control of the timing of the hatch and the number of eggs to be incubated. It does however, require a lot of commitment. The eggs may need to be turned regularly if your incubator is not automatic, there is a risk of losing chicks if the power goes out, the temperature and humidity must be monitored constantly and that’s all before the chicks hatch! After the chicks hatch and dry out, they have to be transferred to a brooder where they’ll need heat, food and water. They need to be checked constantly for the first few days and there is a chance of losing chicks if the power goes out and you can’t keep them warm.

Chicks hatched in an incubator with be friendlier than those raised by a broody.

Chicks hatched in an incubator with be friendlier than those raised by a broody.

Chickens will go from fluffy little chicks to fairly large, noisy birds inside a few weeks, it may be a while before they can be fully transitioned outside with the other hens, are you prepared to deal with the huge amounts of sawdust they kick everywhere? It’s your responsibility to ensure that they are slowly introduced to the big outdoors and the rest of the flock, this can be a slow process. Incubator hatched chickens will be friendlier than chicks raised by a broody, simply because they are used to being handled and that can be a definite advantage.

So, as you can see, there’s a lot to consider before you decide which method to use. We started with an incubator because it gave us a lot of control over timing, which can be important if you’re working or very busy, but when we found ourselves with a broody hen, we couldn’t resist giving her a few fertile eggs to sit on. What ever you decide to do, one thing is for sure, it’ll be a lot of fun.

How to grow : Potatoes.

8 Comments

Potatoes would have to be the absolutely best vegetable there is, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that there is virtually no one who doesn’t like to eat potatoes in one form or another, yet, I know quite a few people that grow their own veg but have never grown potatoes. I don’t know why this is, maybe they’re not sure how, or they think that they don’t have the space? Well, I’m here to tell you that growing potatoes is really easy and there are ways to grow them in small spaces too.

Leave your seed potatoes somewhere bright for a week or so until they 'chit'.

Leave your seed potatoes somewhere bright for a week or so until they ‘chit’.

Potatoes are best grown from certified disease free seed potatoes, but if you have never grown potatoes before, you could use a few shop bought ones that have sprouted in the pantry and plant them in a large container. They can be planted from late winter to early spring. In order to give your potatoes a good start, leave them on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks until they start to sprout, this is called ‘chitting’. Not all gardeners chit their potatoes and they will still grow if you plant them without chitting, they’ll just take a little longer.

Dig a trench to plant your potatoes.

Dig a trench to plant your potatoes.

Once your potatoes have chitted, you’re ready to plant. If you’re planting in the ground, dig a trench about 10cm (4 ins) deep, a bit of well rotted manure in the bottom will give your potatoes a flying start as they are heavy feeders. Put your potatoes in the trench about 30 cm (12 ins) apart and cover them with a little soil.

You can easily grow potatoes in a large container if you have no space in your garden.

You can easily grow potatoes in a large container if you have no space in your garden.

As the potato plants grow, cover all but the tops of the plants with soil, the more you cover the stems of the plant, the more potatoes you will have at harvest time. The same principles apply to potatoes grown in a container, simply plant your potatoes in a small amount of soil in the bottom of the container and then fill the container with more soil as the plants grow.

harvest your potatoes once the plants have flowered and begun to die back.

harvest your potatoes once the plants have flowered and begun to die back.

Your potatoes will be ready to harvest once the plants have flowered and begun to die back, dig them up carefully, trying not to stab any (virtually impossible, but try anyway). If you are growing in a container, simply tip it upside down to harvest!
Don’t wash any potatoes that you’re planning to store as they will not store as long once they’re clean, try to store them in a cool dark place and never store the with apples as the ethylene gas that they emit will make your potatoes rot.
So, if you haven’t tried growing potatoes before, why not give them a go? They’re extremely low maintenance,  you can grow them in a container if you’re short of space and, in the case of all home grown veg, they taste fantastic!

Growing food on paved areas.

11 Comments

If you’re not ready to sacrifice your lawn for a veggie patch or you’ve simple run out of space, don’t despair, you may be overlooking some areas that can quickly be converted into food growing oases. Here’s a guide to how we use the paved areas around our home for growing food, it may give you a few ideas.

You can grow most veg in a raised bed.

You can grow most veg in a raised bed.

Our house can loosely be described as ‘ranch style’ and it is paved or gravelled all the way around. At the back of the house we have seven raised beds growing herbs and vegetables. Adding ready made raised beds is a really quick way to turn a paved area into a growing bed.

Adding some more raised beds at the back of the house.

Adding some more raised beds at the back of the house.

When we added our latest beds, the area had been covered with weedy gravel, we took it back to dirt, then weed matted the entire area before placing the beds on top, our next job is to add some new gravel around the beds. As soon as the beds are filled with soil, they are ready for planting and they can be placed direct on to concrete or pavers. So you see how quick it is to convert a paved area without any major alteration and not a huge expense either.

Large pots are handy.

Large pots are handy.

A few large pots can also be turned into an instant herb or vegetable garden, we have quite a few dotted round the place, they are great for use on balconies as well.

Make a frame for nets to keep pests out.

Make a frame for nets to keep pests out.

At the front of the house we have a large bed that is deeper than the others, this gives us more options when it comes to planting time. We’ve also added frames to some of our raised beds so that they can be netted to keep the pests out. It’s not essential to buy ready made raised beds, the same can be achieved with four pieces of wood joined together to form a bed, or with any large container such as an old apple crate.

Tomato plants in a raised bed.

Tomato plants in a raised bed.

As these beds are so close to the house, we like to use them to grow the things we use the most, like herbs and salad items, it’s so quick and easy to make a salad if you only have to step a few feet out of the door of your house to grab the things you need, and we never have to trek to the supermarket to pick up fresh herbs.
So take another look at the areas around your home, maybe you have got space to grow some food after all?

Why every suburban backyard should have chickens

12 Comments

We started small, with one little veg patch and a few tomato, lettuce and sweetcorn plants grown from seedlings. That spring was very wet and the summer not especially warm. Our harvest was rubbish, but we were excited, it planted a seed of thought, maybe we could grow more of this stuff, maybe we could feed ourselves from our backyard? We threw ourselves into building a huge veggie patch ( this will be big enough to feed us, surely? erm…no.) and we grew more and more, but it didn’t feel as though we were really producing until we got ourselves some chickens. It’s the neatly packaged protein that they produce every day that makes them so amazing, the fact that you can do so much more with your veg when you have a few eggs, the wonderful sound they make in your garden and how happy they are to see you when you’re holding the food bowl. There are so many reasons to keep chickens in suburbia, here are just a few.

You don't have to spend a lot buying your chickens.

You don’t have to spend a lot buying your chickens.

They’re not very expensive to buy and house. Our first chickens were purchased from a battery farm, they weren’t ex-battery hens, rather, point of lay, that were just about to be shoved into the horrifying cage egg system. They were not very expensive but you can save even more money buy purchasing the ex-caged birds. These birds are not very old, around 18 months and are still laying well, just not productively enough for the caged egg industry. They will be very pale when you bring them home as they have spent their entire lives inside, they usually have a lot of missing feathers and they are usually scared of the big outdoors. Within weeks though, they will be looking and behaving just like chickens that have always lived outdoors.

Their housing need not be elaborate or expensive.

Their housing need not be elaborate or expensive.

You don’t need to spend a lot on housing your chickens, we started with something similar to this and now have an array of different types of housing, we even have plans to convert our kid’s cubby house when it’s no longer in use! The most important thing is that it should be lockable at night and predator proof.

Chickens do best on a varied diet of commercial layer pellets, grain, greens and leftovers from the kitchen.

Chickens do best on a varied diet of commercial layer pellets, grain, greens and leftovers from the kitchen.

You can build a run area around your coop to give your girls plenty of room to scratch and dust bath, we’ve learnt the hard way that it’s a good idea to net the top, no matter how high your fence is!
your chickens will help you reduce your waste, they love nothing better than polishing off the kitchen scraps, ours are especially partial to stale bread, pasta, lasagne and bolognaise.
Now may be a good time to talk about poo! If you’re growing your own veg, there’s nothing better for your veggie beds than having a home produced supply of chicken manure. You can add it to your compost, leave it in a pile to rot down or make manure tea with it by adding it to water and using it as a liquid fertiliser. Just don’t use it direct when it’s fresh as it’s too high in ammonia and will burn your plants.

Eggs! The best reason to keep chickens.

Eggs! The best reason to keep chickens.

Let’s not forget the biggest and best reason to keep chickens in your backyard, those wonderful eggs. The eggs that your chickens will produce on their varied diet will be better than any eggs you’ve eaten before, if this doesn’t sell you on the benefits of keeping chickens in your backyard, I’m afraid nothing will.

Reggie the rooster.

Reggie the rooster.

And a quick word on roosters. There’s no need to keep one. Forget everything you’ve heard about needing a rooster to keep the chickens in line or sort out the pecking order, the girls will manage just fine on their own and a rooster would be unwelcome in most suburban areas. We keep a rooster because we have begun to raise our own chickens and because we have wonderful and tolerant neighbours who put up with our “foibles”. So don’t let the idea that keeping chickens may be too noisy put you off.
I could go on and on listing the various reasons that suburbia needs chickens, we’ve covered the main ones, now it’s up to you to get a few chooks and see what keeping them means to you.

How to grow : Onions

3 Comments

At Franger Farm, we firmly believe that almost every dish tastes better with an onion or two in it. We have a number of things that we just can’t grow enough of, and onions are well and truly on the list. Home grown onions are so full of flavour when compared to shop bought ones and can be grown in available spaces in sunny borders around the garden.

Onions need to grow in full sun in well drained soil.

Onions need to grow in full sun in well drained soil.

Onions are a cold weather crop, they can be grown in three different ways, from ‘sets’ (bulbs available from garden centres) from seed or from seedlings. We grow our onions from seed and occasionally, seedlings. Sow your seed about 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) apart, the same for seedlings, if you’re using sets, space them 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches) apart. Ensure that your soil is weed free as onions are slow growing and can be quickly overwhelmed by fast growing weeds. Don’t bury your sets or seedlings too deeply or their growth will be restricted. Don’t bury your onions as they grow, the bulbs should sit proud of the soil.

The tops of your onions will fall over as the onions mature.

The tops of your onions will fall over as the onions mature.

The tops of the onions will begin to die back and fall over as they mature. Once the bulbs have swelled nicely and the tops have died back, you can harvest your onions.

Dry your onions on a wire rack or shelf.

Dry your onions on a wire rack or shelf.

If you want to store your onions for use throughout the year, they need to be dried first. Spread them out on a wire rack or shelf so they have good airflow around each bulb. The onions are ready to store once the skins have become dry and papery. The onions will need to be stored in a cool dry area to prolong their storage life.
I hope we’ve inspired you to give growing your own onions a go, but be careful, you may end up like us, chasing the holy grail of growing enough onions for your family for the entire year!