Today is another busy day. I am up early because Patrick is taking Diane to Cardiff to see her boyfriend and is leaving very early, therefore, I need to be up for the tree surgeons. I have a very interesting chat with the chief tree surgeon when they arrive about how they recruit climbers but he warns me that they might get called away as so much is going on ‘tree wise’ in the borough and sure enough by late morning they have disappeared. However, he has already spoken to me about extending his time with us in order to finish the job. This is fine with us, because although we need the tree work doing, there is no urgency as we are not ready to start restoring the wall. Because I am up early, I try to get some work done outside before getting dad up. I am conscious that I have some plants awaiting planting in the tunnel, including six rather sad looking cucumbers, it is obviously not my year for cucumbers. I start weeding the first section of the side polytunnel border, my plan is to let the cucumbers go up the wall trellis amongst the other climbers. I then go over to dad where I am planning to try to restore his little house to something approaching normality after the removal of so much Jean related paraphernalia. Unfortunately, dad’s bowel is still on overdrive so there are extra tasks to include, such as changing the bed. I persuade Aideen (and briefly Meave) to help me move his sofa back into the living room (it had been moved into the bedroom to make room for Jean’s hospital bed). I have a general clean up and everything looks much better. I think watching me work makes grandad tired because he fell asleep in the middle of his breakfast.
I then go outside where I remove a lot of runner beans which I know will be too tough to eat, the long hot/dry spell does them no favours. I hope by removing them it will then encourage the production of new more tender beans now we have so much rain.
I then move on to my Brussel sprout bed to weed and tie them all to their canes. I do not get very far before I am driven into the polytunnel by the rain. I decided to stay undercover and continue tidying up the side border in the tunnel as I still have a tray of basil plant to plant out in any spaces…you can never have too much basil! Sorting out this border is tricky because the climbers from the wall mainly Ipomea and Thunbergia have stretched out across the bed and wrapped themselves around the chilli and pepper plants. There are also self-seeded Thunbergia and Ipomea growing in the middle of the bed. This requires a great deal of untangling and in some cases snipping with my scissors. Some pepper and chilli plants have become completely engulfed and need canes to give them help and support. However, there is a good crop of both chillies and peppers in a wide range of jewel like colours and they are a good size.
I manage to find space for all of the extra basil and by the time I finish at about 5pm, the bed is full, no space left, and looks much better. I also take the opportunity to remove any flowers off the existing basil to stop it going to seed. It takes a long time to do the bed which is probably nearly 40ft long and 4ft wide! By this time, the rain is heavy and I can hear distant thunder. I’ve decided to come inside and maybe work on my book. This turns out to be the right decision as the rain becomes torrential and there is a terrifying clap of thunder right over the house. I am now looking out at the pouring rain and thinking wistfully of the two courgettes I picked this morning to put in tonight’s lasagne which are sitting on the wall of the central fountain…I think they might have to stay there for a while! When the rain finally stops, I rush out to grab the courgettes and then hurry around gathering supplies for what could be the dinner using the most Kitchen Garden ingredients ever. We are having lasagne which uses the courgettes, I picked five large sweetcorn cobs, select a white cabbage to make coleslaw with one of my ‘step-over’ apples, a white onion and a green pepper. I pick more tomatoes, basil and red onion and a cucumber for a tomato salsa. I think that is ten separate ingredients from the garden!
Can you believe this weather! Even for the UK it is excelling itself, in the space of a couple of weeks, we have the longest heatwave and temperatures in the mid 30’s and now we have wind, rain and plummeting temperatures reduced by nearly 20 degrees to 12 degrees! No wonder the farmers are complaining. I have a book on small scale grain growing, I might have to try it out and start producing my own flour!
The tree surgeons return this morning…ironically the tree blocking the road that they were called away to yesterday was local. They manage to stay for quite a few hours today and I watched them at work discretely from the middle of the orchard for a while with Aideen. It is incredible to see how they take the trees down. One man in the tree with lots of ropes, harnesses and carabiner clips, even the chainsaw attached to a rope, the other man instructing him carefully from below. It is a very precise operation, ingeniously using the support of a stronger tree to stretch across and remove top growth from less substantial neighbouring trees. I would describe this as extreme gardening. When I go to view progress after they have left I am very impressed. The area on top of the wall is opening up and by removing what was mainly scrappy and quite ugly seedling sycamores and hawthorn, the view of the giant trees behind have been revealed and it is beautiful.
Before I get dad up for the day, I walk around the garden planning the virtual tour for Bank Holiday Monday with Aideen. We would have been open for NGS on Monday but have decided that it is best not to do any big public openings this year. This is partly because of our ‘shielding’ family members but also because I am very unclear about exactly what we are allowed to do and I am a great worrier about doing the wrong thing!
This cautious side to my nature (Aideen and I stood a very long way back watching the tree surgeons) extends to my foraging forays. For example, I am always trying to stop Patrick from picking what he thinks are field mushrooms and I think are ‘yellow stainers’.Today, I found in the orchard the only wild mushroom I am prepared to pick, the Giant Puffball. Our orchard produces a few of these impressive fungi every year. I still remember the first time I saw them, big white balls on the grass, some as big as footballs, I thought they were alien beings! Anyway, there is no other mushroom like a puffball and they are edible so I pick this medium sized specimen for dinner.
Unfortunately, this cautious side to my nature does not extend to ‘sell-by’ dates. I put some very out of date natural yoghurt on my ‘fruit-cage’ fruit this morning along with some of our new honey, which is clear golden and pours like syrup. Not long afterwards, I was outside trying to weed the Brussel sprouts and I started to feel sick…I never usually feel sick, so I ignored the feeling for some time. In the end, I had to come in and lie down…also very unusual, I think it was the yoghurt…luckily, after an hour of quietly listening to Radio 4 with Pip, my faithful companion beside me, I felt better. It didn’t stop me eating lunch (if a little late) which was halloumi wraps with lettuce and tomatoes from the garden…it takes a lot to put me off my food! I then went back outside and continued weeding the Brussel sprouts and tying them to their supporting canes. Staking Brussel sprouts is very important, they grow tall rather like sprouting broccoli and the wind will rock them and disturb their roots, interfering with development if they are not supported.
Annoyingly, I’ve noticed the wind has blown over several of my Quinoa plants, one of the few tall plants with no stakes.
On my travels around the garden I notice my favourite marginal pond plant has started to flower, this is Schizostylis coccinea ‘Sunrise’, it is salmon pink and a pleasure to behold on the waters edge.
This morning, I was dipping into the excellent book, ‘The Garden Jungle’ by Dave Coulson and I read something that made me even more thankful than normal that I live and garden in the UK (whatever the weather). In a chapter titled ‘The Toxic Cocktail’, Coulson describes the common practice in the USA of drenching urban and suburban areas with insecticides, either dropped from planes or sprayed from tankers patrolling the streets. This incredibly dangerous behaviour is to try and deal with Japanese beetle and mosquitos that might be carrying Zika virus. The effect on the human population is potentially very harmful and it is completely devastating to wildlife. He describes one poor lady having all of her bees (45 hives) killed from one of the ariel sprayings, I cannot believe that a supposedly democratic country can behave in such an appalling manner. As I collect food for tonight’s dinner, to accompany my foraged puffball I cannot get the image of poisoned soil and annihilated wildlife out of my mind. I dig up the potatoes and there are big worms everywhere, when I cut up the red cabbage I will leave it in water until I’m ready to use it to encourage the exit of woodlice and small slugs. As I cut up an apple to add to my red cabbage dish, I chase an earwig across the work surface, this is how food should be, so fresh and appetising that everything wants to eat it, human, insect or animal. There is enough to share and the insects will go back outside with the compost! Tonight, our ‘so lucky to live here’ family will eat sausage and bacon cooked in cider with courgette, onion, garlic and puffball mushroom, Lyonnaise potatoes, mashed swede and carrot and red cabbage braised with apple and onion. These are the first swedes and red cabbage to be harvested. Thank you God for the food we eat!