24/1/21 As promised, snow began to fall at 9:30am this morning. Before going across to grandad, I went outside to look at the bonfire which Patrick said was still burning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bonfire burning, surrounded by snow, whilst snow is still falling. Patrick had put some bits on the fire that morning and we know from experience that when you have a long lasting bonfire the ash heaps up and retains the heat, so it is easy to reignite the following day. The fire was only burning at a low level but it was warm and it was lovely to stand amongst the snow laden trees whilst feeling the heat of the flames.
I then walked around the Kitchen Garden and Orchard with Aideen to take pictures of different garden features in the snow. Snow always makes things look different and special. This tour was accompanied by Bella who then featured in many of the photos. I went over to get grandad up and he was very intrigued to see the snow, which was rather sweet.
I then went to feed Pecky and check her water wasn’t frozen (it was partly). I found, to my dismay, that the bottom of Pecky’s shed door (her hen house is constructed within a small shed) had been badly gnawed. Obviously, a country rat has been trying to get in to steal her food! I alerted Patrick and we discussed how we could reinforce the bottom of the door. We tolerate a certain level of rat activity considering where we live, but breaking into Pecky’s house is not acceptable!
The snow was absolutely beautiful and a lot of time today was spent just gazing out of the window…nothing wrong in that. We then continued with indoor pursuits, Patrick and Diane made a start on the living room panelling, Aideen and James did some baking, Meave spent time working on something complicated and mathematical to do with work and I continued with my quilt/cover creation. Good to see everyone occupied!
Tell Tale Footprints
Today was another exquisite day, perfect blue skies and bright sunshine reflecting on the snow. Interestingly, the snow can give clues to the identity of perpetrators of certain garden misdemeanours…over recent days, areas of turf have been scraped up in our front field/lawn, this has been happening in the orchard for some time. I was pretty convinced it was badgers, looking for worms. The snow revealed their tell-tale paw tracks running between the disturbed areas. It is difficult to know what to do about this activity, the badgers are obviously hungry, should I leave food out for them, if so what? I am reluctant to interfere with the natural ‘order’ of things. The badgers have been living around Church Gardens long before we moved in and I’m sure they are perfectly capable of feeding themselves. I offer up a prayer of thanks that for now, at least, the Kitchen Garden seems to be ‘badger proof’.
There are not many things to be done in a garden when snow is on the ground. I never want to interfere with delicate soil structures when they are partially frozen and I don’t want to accidentally step on a delicate crocus flower, or emerging bulb shoot, when they are hidden by snow.
However, without wishing to sound like a polytunnel salesman, this is when the polytunnel comes into its own. This is particularly the case on a bright sunny day like today because inside the tunnel it is quite warm…warm enough to remove my fleece jacket, if not quite ‘T-Shirt’ temperature. There was not a great deal to do in the tunnel but I’m glad I went out there because whilst watering onion seedlings, I spied that my sweet pea seedlings had been nibbled, some felled completely probably by a mouse. This problem seems to take me by surprise every year, I really should be prepared by now. However, it is not an easy problem to deal with. The sweet peas are in root trainers and have only recently had their lids removed because the plants are getting taller. I decide to put them under the propagator cloches for now, the propagators are not switched on yet. However, I know from experience that mice will squeeze through the tiniest of gaps and will enter a propagator, but I hope it will foil them for now. I spend my time painting the underside of my large wooden plant labels for the forest garden bed and I am repeatedly startled by the sound of large lumps of snow sliding off the polytunnel roof.
Having finished the labels, I came back inside to continue with my quilt which I’m determined to ‘crack on’ with. The central section of this creation is made of the four offcuts from the shortened curtains. I am then making 8 oblong crazy patchwork panels to attach to each end of the four central strips to make a cover wide enough for the bed. Then, I will need to stitch it all together. My next task was to measure and cut the backing panels for the patchwork, made of a robust old white sheet, which interestingly do vary slightly in size… my quilt will definitely be of the ‘hand made’, ‘quirky’, variety rather than an item of precision and perfection! I then sort through my numerous scraps and saved sentimental items of clothing and other bits and pieces such as lace, old handkerchiefs, buttons and beads and divide them up loosely according to colour and theme. I start with a panel that features grandad and auntie Jean, which inevitably involves a frog! My Aunt had a collection of over 3000 ornamental frogs! I have now minutely studied my book ‘Crazy Patchwork’ by Janet Haigh and I think I’m ready to begin.
I stay up ridiculously late, partly because my adored cat Pip, who has a weak bladder, needed to be let out and obviously I had to wait up to let her back in, but also because my own tummy was unsettled. By the time I go to bed, the first panel has all of its pieces tacked into place, the panel edges are trimmed, with allowance for a seam, and I have started on the decorative embroidered stitching that secures the patches to the backing. The stitching is done in silks, quite thickly, and somewhere in the recesses of my memory I remembered how to do herringbone stitch. I have suffered a great deal of raised eyebrows and sarcastic comments about my needle work project, but when I finally retire for the night, I am satisfied that the panel looks OK.
Today’s weather is really cold and miserable, which is a shame as today we are expecting a visit from the Conservation Officer with regards to our Planning Application.
During the morning, Diane and I spend some time on general tidying up in the orchard, packing away scaffolding etc. Later in the morning my large seed order from ‘Mr Fothergills’ arrives and my separate order of large amounts of primula seeds, which I think came from Poland, also arrives. The largest part of my seed order came from ‘Mr Fothergills’ which consisted of all of the flower seeds and quite a lot of the vegetable seeds. I have also ordered seed potatoes and onion and shallot sets from Mr Fothergills, but these have not arrived yet. There are dozens of packs of seeds which I firstly check off my original list and then file them away in the seed packet boxes. It is always exciting to receive the seeds, but it is daunting to think of the work to come…sowing, growing on and planting out thousands of new plants!
The Conservation Officer arrives early and Patrick, Aideen, Diane and myself (all masked) walk around the orchard together in the cold and wet for about an hour. Patrick and I do not find these meetings particularly easy, our encounters with Hillingdon Council in the past have not always been straightforward.
Today’s meeting is just to clarify what things look like onsite and to discuss details. It is impossible to get any idea of the progress of our Application until all of the feedback is received so we will have to continue to wait anxiously.
Tonight, is my online teaching night, and I now have three hours work, which is more than I started the term with. I am getting more used to this strange way of doing things and my lovely pupils are doing really well. The general feeling is that they are practising quite hard because they are so bored with TV and online school!
Health Benefits of a Plant Based Diet
The wet, depressing weather continues, but I do manage to get outside to the polytunnel. Today, I write on the newly painted wooden plant labels. This takes a long time because it must have been about 60 labels. Each is marked with the plants common name and its Latin name. I’ve decided that it is very important for people to see the common names in the forest garden bed because they are so descriptive and will help people to understand the forest garden concept. Names like ‘Burnt Jelly Plant’ and ‘Chocolate Vine’ are much more evocative than their Latin names. By the time I had finished writing the labels, my hands were freezing, so I will wait until tomorrow to put them in the bed.
I then came inside and continued with the crazy patchwork. Whilst sewing, I listened to a very interesting programme on food and diet myths. It was extolling the importance of feeding your body’s micro biome, which Tim Spector, author of ‘Spoon Fed’, described as an unique internal garden, I thought this was quite an interesting concept. One of the main recommendations was to consume at least 30 different types of plant per week. ‘Plant’ could mean herbs, seeds, nuts as well as fruit and vegetables. The intention should be to avoid processed foods and to consume ‘real’ food. He also advised avoidance of ‘sugar free’ drinks and taking vitamins and other supplements. Having spent many years testing supplements, he concluded that your body far prefers to obtain its vitamin requirements from real food, microbes prefer to break down actual food. It was very good to hear that my firm belief in the benefits of consuming fresh, organic fruit and vegetables is justified. He was also very enthusiastic about brightly coloured vegetables which contain polyphenols (which used to be referred to as antioxidants), explaining that a diet rich in these would be excellent for fighting off infections…so it was a big ‘thumbs up’ for growing your own!
Today I finished the first panel of crazy patchwork…it certainly looks crazy but I like it…only 7 more to go!
First Egg of 2021!
Today was incredibly mild and the first thing I noticed when going into the kitchen garden were the first Dwarf Iris flowering in the alpine beds. This is always cause for great excitement because these exquisite blooms are amongst my favourite flowers. The colours are beautiful and the structure of the flower is so perfect.
When I went to feed Pecky, I found, quite by chance, her first egg of 2021. The egg was not in the nesting boxes as normal, but resting in the half emptied bag of shredding in the corner of her shed, I think the egg may have taken her by surprise as well (she hasn’t produced an egg for months!) and it was still warm!
Whilst getting grandad up, I told him about my crazy memory patchwork and said I had included part of his ‘Loiterer’s CTC’ Club T-shirt. He was very pleased about this because it was his favourite T shirt which we had recently had to stop using (he used it as a Pyjama top) because it was literally falling apart! I explained that the patch also included some frogs and some beads from a broken bracelet that belonged to Auntie Jean. I will bring it over to show him later.
Aideen offered to come outside with me so I gave her the job of barrowing compost to the pumpkin patch, to put inside the new ‘faux lead’ containers which we set into position on their slabs. I will try to move and plant the Box plants tomorrow. Then the plastic cover will be covered in gravel, with cut sections of drainage pipe inserted into the pumpkin planting holes (to raise them up above the level of the gravel) and this will be where I plant the pumpkins. When we finish the planters, they look very smart and fit in brilliantly with the organ pipes.
I take all my wooden plant labels out to the forest garden bed and hammer them into place. Aideen and Pip look at the results approvingly, the bed is really starting to take shape and I cannot wait for it all to start growing.
When I come in, I prepare a planting plan for our proposed pond to send in as part of the Planning Application. I really, really, really, hope we are allowed to have the pond because as I list my ideal selection of plants, it makes this long anticipated dream project seem more real and it will be very disappointing if we are not given permission.
Still feeling mindful of plant consumption in our diet, I add garlic chives to an egg sandwich for lunch, sage to the meatballs for dinner and thyme and oregano to the tomato sauce that I cook the meatballs in.
Unfortunately, granddad buzzed at 2am last night. I trudged sleepily across the garden in the rain and I was not too impressed on asking why he had buzzed to be told, “I just wondered what was happening?”. This is a favourite reply of grandads when he buzzes randomly, but it is less appreciated at 2am!
I got up quite early, I sometimes wonder why I bother to go to bed. It is still very mild but also extremely wet and doesn’t look promising for moving the box plants. However, the rain clears up and the sun comes out, so Aideen and I head outside. It is brilliant having someone to help with jobs in the garden because everything gets done twice as fast! Aideen goes off to collect compost for the planters and I attempt to dig out the box plants. These box plants have quite a history…they are all that remain of the original box plants that were left over when I planted the box hedge around the raised vegetable beds in 2005. Back then, I ordered about 1000 bare rooted box plants, but some were left over. I planted the spare plants at the end of what was to become our first herbaceous border. This border was planted out in 2015, therefore the box plants had to move. For want of anywhere else to put them, they went into two of my larger raised vegetable beds…not ideal…for the last few years I’ve been planting vegetables around them!
When I created the organ pipe bed for our first NGS opening in 2018, I used a large amount of the old box plants to create a box hedge around the edge of the bed. This hedge will eventually be trimmed into an interesting shape. I was left with 11, odd assorted, box plants and it is these that are being transplanted into the new planters, to be made into topiary shapes, in the pumpkin bed. Unsurprisingly, it is quite hard to dig them out but when they are all in place and we’ve tidied up, it looks very smart. Maybe we should have a competition to decide what shapes to cut them into!
After a very late lunch, which involved a salad using lots of my own, small, red and yellow tomatoes, which are still going strong, Diane, Aideen, Patrick, Bella (the dog) and I, decide to go for a walk to look at the ponds behind the church, which are overflowing and sending water down along the path beside the graveyard and propelling mud and water all over the church carpark! It is extremely muddy and I’m not quite sure how I remained upright. It is clear that the overflow system between the ponds is blocked – some of this water comes down through our orchard. We carefully make our way back, but we are all very wet and muddy!