Today is a very misty, cloudy and damp day but I fully intend to work outside. My plan is to make a start on the fruit tree border, it needs weeding, pruning, cutting back and then compost added. I do this whilst listening to the Budget. This bed is going to be a fiddly job because it is full of rose bushes. There were already over 100 roses in the border and then Patrick arrived home from a site with a pile of discarded roses that had been dug out with a digger, so I added those too. These roses were quite old and did not look very promising (they had been through a traumatic time) but I cut them back and planted them in. I am pleased to report that all of the ones that I’ve looked at so far are sprouting leaves and shoots which is very exciting.
Later on, Aideen and Diane come out to talk to me and we notice Pip on the polytunnel roof. This is worrying as the polycarbonate plastic is very slippery, the cats can no longer dig their claws in as they did to the polythene cover. (We changed the tunnel covering because the cats destroyed the roof!) Pip, unwisely decides to head down the roof towards me, she loses control and starts to quickly slide towards the edge. Rather than fall, she jumps, with added momentum from her slide, towards my shoulder and hits me with considerable force directly into the side of my face and neck with her paws and claws outstretched! Pip, slightly stunned, then jumps down safely. I am left quite shocked, scratched and bleeding, however, I am prepared to put up with a lot from my cat.
Whilst having lunch, the weather deteriorates to a constant drizzle so I decide to stay in and sew. I finish panel number 6 and start planning panel number 7. The evening is interrupted by another power cut, the second this week, we think it is HS2. Not only is it decimating our local countryside, it seems to be disrupting our electricity supply!
We set grandad up a candle to eat his dinner and we sit around my five candle lantern eating cheese and biscuits, discussing the day.
It is distinctly chilly today and we’ve also had a reasonable amount of rain. However, Aideen and I are keen to crack on with getting the raised beds and borders in ‘ship-shape’ condition and ready for planting. Whilst running around this morning, I notice quite a few spots where compost has been knocked onto my newly swept paths. This is probably blackbirds having a good root around looking for worms, they don’t appreciate that we are trying to tidy up!
Aideen starts by asking me what she should be getting on with. She has been weeding various beds in the vegetable garden, this ranges from beds full of tiny seedling weeds growing in-between the Autumn sown Onion and Garlic, to beds that have been left since last year and now are quite overgrown. We walk around together whilst I point out the beds to tackle next, these are mainly the smaller beds with permanent planting because the bigger beds are for vegetables that haven’t even been sown yet. By the time we have finished walking around, I’ve pointed out about 18 beds and I think she is sorry that she asked!
My mission is to attack the fruit tree border. This border is 60m long and is divided into two beds by a narrow service path. This gives a narrow bed against the wall (0.5m wide) for the fruit trees and the remaining section (2m wide) is full of ornamentals and roses. The border is divided into six, 10m sections of repeated planting, if I could just get one 10m section done per day… This is a tall order as it requires all the roses to be pruned and lots of things to be cut back, including the fountain grass. Then everything needs weeding and finally, compost added.
Both Aideen and I feel quite cold, my nose is freezing and my fingers are stiff, so we go inside for lunch. I pick two of our own lemons to have with smoked salmon. These are the first lemons we have picked and the scent of the lemon is very pronounced, much more noticeable that a shop bought lemon.
I did manage to finish pruning and weeding my 10m section, but I didn’t finish until after 6pm and I didn’t get the compost on. We need to work hard because groups are beginning to contact us to re-book visits and we hope to open again in July.
Defending the crops
It is still quite cold outside but it is nice and warm in the propagator and things are starting to grow. As an organic grower, I do find that I am always trying to second guess the behaviour of various creatures in order to safeguard my crops. It might be a squirrel attacking my magnolia trunks, a badger digging up the tulip bulbs, a blackbird pulling out an onion set or a mouse stealing a chilli seed!
So far my module trays have been covered with sheets of glass to avoid mouse interference, however, this has to be closely monitored to avoid tiny seedlings emerging and hitting the glass. This morning, I checked the trays and all the glass had to be removed and I covered the tiny seedlings with clear green plastic lids. These have been saved from when I have had deliveries of plug plants in past years. In the evening, I place the glass on top to weigh them down so hopefully the mice will not push them out of the way. I notice that most of the aubergines and some of the chillies are off to a flying start but I will have to keep an eye on some of the varieties that have yet to emerge, as the seed may have failed. Not all the seed I use is fresh this year, although I try to keep within the dates on the packets, I do keep using some for longer, this has varying success. Some seeds are much quicker to deteriorate than others, for example, lettuce seed can be terrible, whereas most brassica seeds are very reliable.
I start by bringing compost over to the fruit tree border. As with the organ pipe bed, this takes much longer than I expect. This is partly because I’m digging out the remains of an old compost heap that backs onto my new compost yard. It is quite tricky to access, as much of it is heaped up around some nut trees, but I’m determined not to waste any because I need such a large quantity to cover all the beds. On the subject of nut trees, I notice that the twiggy branches I cut as pea sticks seem to be sprouting fresh looking buds…have I got a small nuttery rooting amongst my peas?
When I’m working in the border, listening to the radio, I become aware of a very faint tapping and I follow the sound to the back yard. Looking up, I notice a Greater Spotted Woodpecker pecking away on the side of a tree beyond the house, not the usual resonant echoing hammering but a much quieter tapping…wood peckers must have very strong skulls!
Aideen comes out briefly to help at the end of the day and calls me over to her bed where she is weeding to query some plants. It turns out to be self-seeded chicory, I suggest she replants it around the edge of the bed, bonus plants to surround the onions and add to our salads.
Spring Induced Panic
It is a fine, if cold day, and I try to get outside promptly as I am feeling mildly panicked. This morning, after my run/walk, which included a broom to quickly sweep compost back into the beds on my exercise circuit, I had a quick look at my planting diary for this time last year. Worryingly, I notice that by the end of February last year I had already sown some of my annuals that could be started early using the propagators. I had also started to pot up the dahlias and cannas. Admittedly, last year, I was overwintering the tubers and corms in darkness in the basement and this year, they are in the cold frames covered in fleece and hessian, however, they do still need to be ‘potted up’ and then protected from the cold to get them into growth.
This information immediately sparked pangs of guilt and mild panic, feelings I am somewhat prone to! I have become rather distracted by improving my beds and borders. Something I have to monitor in my own gardening behaviour is the desire to finish one job before starting another. I would much prefer to have all of the beds ship shape and then start on the seed sowing. I faced the same problem in the Autumn when I was planting masses of bulbs but then had to bring in the dahlias or dig out and lay hard-core on the driveway!
I don’t think this delay is too much of a problem, but I had hoped to grow all of my own bedding and companion plants this year and not be tempted to buy any plug plants, therefore, I do need to get started.
I decided to sow one root trainer with replacement broad beans because I have lost quite a few due to the recent cold spell. I then planted out four more root trainers with numerous different varieties of sweet pea, putting two seeds in each module. As I had used up all my sweet pea seeds, I filled the remaining nine modules, with sunflower seeds.
I then returned to my border, however, the problem with this approach is that you get far less done. I probably spent less than three hours weeding and pruning.
I comforted myself with the fact that it is Saturday today, which means the rest of the family are helping. However, they are dealing with the quite soul destroying task of trying to clear the far reaches of the new compost yard. In order to demolish our remaining ‘eye-sore’ out buildings, we have to find accommodation for the logs, pallets of bricks and slabs that are being stored in them that we need to retain. Some of these materials will be used up and some of them are used temporarily for certain jobs in the garden – a form of recycling. We have decided to use the lower part of the compost yard for this purpose but it has to be organised in a neat and efficient way. Unfortunately, there are significant obstructions…
1. A pile of very ‘difficult’ weeds and soil removed from clearing the forest garden bed (nettles, docks, ground elder and bind weed). I hoped they would dry out sufficiently to add to the compost, that was wishful thinking, the wet weather has just kept them alive!
2. An untidy pile of turves rotting down to create loam
3. A loose heap of very rotten logs which Patrick fondly believes is his bug hotel
4. Three Christmas trees
5. A pallet with a sack containing ash
6. A massive pile of branches ready to be cut into logs, covered in polythene
7. A sand bag partially filled with forgotten leaf mould
8. A fallen over, dead tree and some scrubby elders
The first job is to decide what to do with things. I suggest that the worst of the horrible weeds will need to be dumped and the remaining soil put on the floor of the new compost area. The rotten logs will be arranged properly elsewhere for the bugs. The Christmas trees need to be shredded for acidic mulch (but the shredder isn’t working). I will use the loam to pot the dahlias and cannas and to mulch the beds. The ash needs to go onto the fruit cage beds and the dead tree needs removing. Patrick’s plan, for at least some of the unprocessed branches, is to construct a rustic fence behind our young yew hedge to create a screen to make our compost yard more aesthetically pleasing. The fence will gradually rot away but by then, the yew will have grown up. Patrick and Diane head off to purchase a post driver. By the end of the day, the dead tree has gone and so has most of the weedy pile. Also, a series of rustic posts of varying heights (I am told this is deliberate) have been knocked into the soil. I can hear the sound of the post driver and it is quite tuneful. At the end of the day, a fire is lit to help with the clean-up operation. I am reminded that although I love this life and it is what I want to do, it is not easy!
Planning a New Zoom Talk
This morning got off to an early start due to things buzzing around my head. I had a plan to write a second talk to offer to groups during the Autumn/Winter period 2021/22. Our first talk has proven very popular and it made sense to write a follow up about the garden opening up properly to the public in 2019 and then what happened to us during lockdown. This was my plan for late Summer but then one of our groups, due to visit for a second time when we re-open in July, asked for this talk before their visit (they’ve already received the first talk). It was thoughts about this that woke me up this morning, so I decided to get up to start writing a plan. I may have also been apprehensive about Diane’s plans for my revised garden workout.
Yesterday, foolishly, I allowed it to be noticeable that I was feeling rather despondent that my Lent sacrifices, increased exercise and general overhaul of my diet had barely made any difference to my weight. Diane decided to intervene and ‘take me in hand’, this is scary as Diane is extremely fit and capable of the most gruelling workouts that I’ve ever witnessed. She is also not someone to argue with and she intended to take Aideen and I for a workout at 9am.
She duly appeared at the appointed hour and pushed me out the door. I was right to be afraid, her very inventive workout involved the trampoline and getting down on some very cold wet grass. Although I was miles behind Diane and Aideen most of the time, I quite enjoyed it. It was quite a good opportunity to scrutinise our front field at such close quarters…what an amazing collection of little green plants and moss, there was even some grass in it! The girls found the session very amusing and apparently, the sessions will continue to get harder and my pleas that exercise does not make you lose weight fell on deaf ears!
The weather today was cold but there was sunshine – hooray! I started by sowing an 84 module tray of antirrhinums and I devised a new system for sowing these ‘speck-like’ seeds. I pushed them along a crease in my palm with the pointed end of a plant label to knock one seed into each module, this worked much better than trying to pick them up. I was quite surprised that my new pack of ‘Purple Twist Antirrhinum’ only contained 20 seeds, normally there are hundreds of antirrhinum seeds in a pack, probably because they are so hard to sow. This new variety must be special so I didn’t want to lose any!
I then returned to my laborious weeding of the fruit tree bed. I’ve decided to continue with this job until the weather changes on Wednesday, then I will retreat into the tunnel to sow seeds. The others, Patrick, Aideen and Diane, finished cutting the big Yew Hedge, which looked very smart when they finished. Then they returned to tidying up the compost yard which was looking much better by the end of the day. I love this area because it is full of useful, productive things for the garden and that makes me very happy. At the end of the day I started to dig out the pile of loam created from rotted down turves and I used this to mulch my bed.
It was a good day’s work and I feel less panicky than yesterday.