• Kay

Cat down a badger hole!


After a slightly improved morning with dad, I went outside to collect fruit for breakfast.

Today I decided to pick my first pear, it was from the ‘Conference’ step-over tree, which although a baby tree, has several large pears on its branches. I have been tweaking these for weeks, because although they are a good size, they are very hard. I picked the biggest specimen and brought it in with a small apple, some soggy raspberries and lots of Chilean guava berries that are still smothered with fruit.

Aideen and Diane were very excited at the sight of a pear so I shared it with them and the considered opinion was that it was nice and juicy, but quite hard, however, certainly edible.

After breakfast I decide to deal with the quince cheese which has been waiting wrapped in grease proof paper to be cut up and put in an air tight container. I have left it thinking it was still a little soggy but today I thought it needs to be dealt with! I tried a little bit and gave even tinier bits to Aideen and Diane to try…not a success. The twins pulled a face, they didn’t like it. I don’t mind it but it is unusual tasting. It is very sweet, a bit like cooked apple but more perfumed…I do think it might be nice with cheese.

Aideen and I then head off to dig the new bed. I concentrate my attention on the area at the start of the bed that connects with the ‘bee friendly’ planting around the viewing platform. First I had to remove about a barrow full of fallen mortar and broken bricks that were alongside the wall. In this area, there are several badger holes that run under the wall, although they seem abandoned, pip the black cat, had joined us in the bed and promptly disappeared down the badger hole! She has done this before with different holes, but it is not something I am happy about…what happens if she comes across a badger!!! I start calling down the hole, no response, after some time of failing to make contact, I climb up onto the viewing platform to see if she has appeared on the other side of the wall, no sign! I keep calling and return to the hole, then Aideen goes up on the viewing platform and thank goodness, there she is. She had been underground for at least five minutes! Whilst working on this area I can see how well my wild budlejias are doing. Earlier in the year I transplanted about eight self-seeded budlejias that had appeared in the kitchen garden and moved them to make a sort of hedging edge to this area of planting. They are thriving and have produced blooms. I am aware of a couple more in the kitchen garden so I will move them across as well.

Diane joins us later to help dig and we make some progress, but it is hard work. We are certainly very hungry at lunch and we eat lots of tomatoes and lettuce in our sandwiches, plus extra tomatoes on the side! Whilst I am teaching in the evening we are joined by a coach house beetle in the lobby. This is quite a rare beetle, long and narrow, which likes to live in old walls, quite appropriate as Church Gardens was originally a coach house. Luckily my saxophone pupil was unfazed by it approaching him whilst he played ‘Pink Panther’!


Planning for a forest garden


I had great hopes for today as I should have had the whole day to work outside because I do not teach today. However, things rarely go to plan in life and that certainly applies to the weather.

After several attempts to go out to the new orchard bed to dig, we had to abort that plan due to heavy showers of rain. Aideen and I come inside and look at the Agroforestry Research Trust’s website to see if they had any of the shrubs and small trees that I want for my new border in stock.

Many years ago, I went on a forest gardening course with Martin Crawford, at the Agroforestry Research Trust, at Dartington, Totnes, Devon. Martin Crawford set up ART in 1991, establishing one of the best forest gardens in the UK, where he also runs a nursery propagating a wide range of perennial plants and trees. He is one of the leading experts in this field in the UK. Forest gardens are like highly diversified orchards, with under planting of trees with shrubs and perennial plants. These growing systems have the potential to produce a wide variety of perennial crops without the need to disturb the soil to plant annual veg. This is a subject that has fascinated me for years and it has always been my dream to move our orchard/nuttery in this direction. Martin Crawford even came out to advise us in the early days. This large naturalistic bed alongside the newly restored wall is my first proper effort in this direction. Martin Crawford has written many books on Forest gardening and I had come up with a wish list of trees and shrubs from his ‘Trees for Gardens, Orchards and Permaculture’, ‘Shrubs for Gardens, Agroforestry and Permaculture’ and ‘The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook’ by Anne Stobart. I came up with 27 small trees, 9 of which can probably be trained on the wall and potentially 38 shrub/perennials. However, I will not necessarily be able to acquire all of these plants, as many of them are quite rare and unusual. The eventual collection will include many different types of fruit and plants with medicinal uses. The look of the border will be quite woody, it is not going to look like the herbaceous borders in the kitchen garden. However, I think it will have a special look of its own and will be full of interest. The bees and pollinators will love it and from this big first step I hope to start to make inroads on the largely monoculture that makes up the rest of the orchard, or should I say nuttery. Our orchard is mostly populated by cobnuts which is a good forest garden tree but we are over run by cobnuts. They were originally planted as a crop 100/200 years ago with no regard for the original layout of the garden, which is why we were advised to remove those that were planted straight through the main terrace and also against our newly repaired wall. They are also great self-seeders, (with help from the squirrels) so there is never any shortage of cobnuts. Our other trees include a few apple trees, four or five oak trees, quite a few ash and hawthorn and a bit of elder, and the baby walnut that I planted earlier in the year. I am very keen to introduce some different trees, but this will need to be done sensitively.

Finally, Aideen, Diane and myself do get outside and we make some progress, I think we’ve dug over about a third of the area. The area that we have dug so far is mainly 7-8 metres wide and it will narrow as it goes along to about 3m, but it is probably a bigger area than I realised (60m long), but it will need to be, to have space for all of the planned trees and shrubs! Patrick joins us when he finishes work and removes barrows of mortar and bricks. He comments that the soil looks good and it is certainly full of lovely big worms. It is very satisfying to be doing something like this especially on the day that Prince William and Sir David Attenborough announce their ‘Earth Shot’ prize, it is lovely to feel that we are making our own small contribution, by planting more trees and increasing biodiversity. At the end of the day I shut up the polytunnel and carefully carry Colin the Cactus back into his winter home, in the music room.


A fig and a pear


Today started with a clear blue sky and brilliant sunshine. I went out into the garden to look for breakfast and it was amazing. Everything was glittering, little beads of water clinging to petals and soft feather like grasses.

I went into the fruit cage where there wasn’t much to pick, two little birds were fluttering against the netting, but having got in, soon escaped. I found a few raspberries, but this cold wet weather is bringing them to a close. Whilst in the fruit cage, I noticed a couple of large figs on the fig trees growing alongside the miniature orchard. So, I pick one and head for the guava berries (still in full fruit), I then decide to pick one of the humbug pears off the wall and collect a small apple. This makes a sizeable bowl of fruit, with yoghurt and honey which I sit in the sun to eat, relishing every mouthful.

Whilst the sun shines, Aideen and I head up to the new border to continue digging and several hours later, disaster strikes. Whilst digging out a particularly stubborn and sizeable burdock root, I break my favourite fork! Admittedly, this fork already had a missing tine, but to me that was part of its attraction. Now the wood has snapped cleanly above the metal shaft.

We decide to retire for lunch, after which the weather changes dramatically to heavy rain and I retreat to my polytunnel.

I decide to take the opportunity to sow the winter/spring crops for the tunnel. A tray of 40 lettuce (7 varieties), a tray of spinach (4 varieties), one tray including broccoli, cabbage and kale. I then planted another tray that included kale, Chinese salad leaves, Chinese kale, flat leaved parsley and dill. To finish, I planted one 84 cell tray of garlic chives and one tray of different types of onion. It starts to get chilly so I come inside at 6pm and spend the evening going through the talk with Aideen.


The Big Dig Continues…


I was expecting poor weather today, so after a breakfast involving a lot of grilled tomatoes I headed for the polytunnel. The temperature is definitely lower than normal for this time of year.

It is raining a little to start with so I plant out two root trainers of broad beans, I then realise the weather is clearing so I head out to the new bed with my radio. Patrick, James and Diane are putting the corrugated roof on the new shed in the compost yard. This job is more complicated than it looks because of Patrick’s little extra porch roof!

Aideen was up early and in her boat which I visited later. It is now almost completely ripped out and looks much better. The next stage, in boat development, is seeking some professional advice about the treatment of rust.

I now commence on a long, long digging session and after a while Aideen joins me. It is hard, back breaking slog, the soil is good but there are massive nettle roots to pull out. The other weeds are mainly docks, but there are also the roots of the nut trees that we removed and the odd bramble. I distract myself with Radio 4 and I basically dig all day! It is such a massive area and I must confess I can feel the effects on my back. However, I am a great believer in the power of putting one’s mind somewhere else whilst hard physical work is occurring. This is how I used to cycle up steep hills on my bike, with no gears, when I didn’t drive. My mind is deep in my forest garden, I need the area to be big to accommodate the shrubs and small trees I’m dreaming of, which means I am quite prepared to suffer a bit to give them breathing space.

I’ve now got my eye on the area amongst the trees opposite the bed. I am envisaging a forest garden walk. I had already planned to reduce the nut trees in this area to a manageable size. In order to harvest from a nut tree, it needs to be small enough to cover in a net to protect from squirrels. Also, reducing the nut trees’ canopy opens up the space for the oak and ash trees. This side already has a good apple tree and a hawthorn which are good forest garden candidates along with nuts. I am now considering planting an under layer of shrubs, perennials and ground cover in the same vein as the main bed. This will provide more fruit, perennial veg, herbs, culinary and medicinal spices. This ‘walk’ will provide a splendid link from the bees with their pollen rich surrounding planting, to what I hope will be a special area in the corner of the orchard which already is the site of the wild life hide and the steps up to the new viewing area (when the wall is restored).


65 Butternuts


Today was supposed to be fine and it did not disappoint. Everyone was at home to help so that was great. Patrick, James and Diane continued with the new shed roof, which considering its size seems to be consuming a lot of man/woman hours! This might be because it is ‘architect’ designed and therefore a bit fancy! Although I get a bit frustrated with ‘team shed’ later in the day, having spent hours digging in the new bed with Aideen, where we could have done with some assistance. However, I could see when the roof was finished that it looked lovely.

Meave asked for some instruction on operating the leaf blower and then went outside to collect the leaves off the parking area. The parking area is partly finished with a surface of ‘type 1’ and we don’t really want heaps of leaves decomposing over the surface before we can get back to the job.

There was a slight commotion when Meave deposited the leaves on top of my two-year-old leaf mould instead of in the empty bay waiting for new leaves!

Aideen did remark that the three people working on the roof could have pointed her in the right direction, but hey ho. Needless to say, she was told to remove them and put them in the right place!

In the mean time, Aideen and I are digging and digging and digging! The last section of the bed is infested with ground elder which is a horrendous weed to try and remove. In fact, I know we will not completely remove it, there will always be some root left which it will regenerate from, but this attempt to dig it out will knock it back long enough for other things to establish. I am also pretty sure I can either eat ground elder or make good liquid fertiliser from it, so I am quite happy to establish a working arrangement with it! By mid-afternoon my back is killing me and I temporarily collapse on a sand bag on the grass groaning.

Luckily I am due to attend a zoom party at 3:30 to celebrate a dear friend being awarded an MBE. This is Nelly Ben-Or, who has been awarded this honour for her work speaking to children about her holocaust experience. She is also a concert pianist and brilliant Alexander Technique teacher, which is how I first came to know her. She is a remarkable woman still teaching on zoom at 88! Raising a glass to Nelly is a very welcome respite from digging!

After a very late lunch, reinforcements arrive to take over for the last section of digging and I stagger off to my polytunnel. I bring in all of the butternut squashes – 65 in total and sit them on the bench.

This will give their skins the chance to harden. They are a fine crop, all shapes and sizes and should last us for the year. I then collect a bucket full of good sized, red skinned potatoes, three large leeks and a large quantity of runner and dwarf French beans for dinner (chicken, leek and mushroom pie, Lyonnaise potato and beans). I also pick some bright red apples and two enormous cooking apples off the step-over tree which I intend to bake at some point.

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