The weather forecast for today was heavy rain, not ideal for digging out a 21m x 15m x 1.5m pond with a digger and a 3-tonne dumper truck. But, with our customary optimism, Martin, the marvellous digger driver, was outside the house at 7:30am…on his birthday as well! The weather was ok to start with so Diane (driving the dumper, which was a rattling old beast) and Martin started by removing the soil dug out of the trial trench. Then, they began the painstaking process of the actual dig… First, they removed some turf, then they started to dug out the large planting shelf with a sloping edge up to ground level. Aideen and Patrick sat at the edge of the hole checking levels and deciding if the soil removed in each dumper load was topsoil or not, any topsoil was added to the terrace and subsoil was taken outside.
We had a grab lorry booked for later, in fact we have grab lorries booked all week. We have predicted that we will need about 40 grab lorries in total to remove the subsoil from both the pond and basement of the outbuilding over the coming weeks. The fact that we are digging a pond at all, especially one on this scale is incredibly exciting. When I come outside, I continue weeding around my plants in the forest garden bed. I have positioned myself close to the pond in case I am required.
Then, a storm of biblical proportions set in…torrential hail, fork lightening and continuous thunder rolling back and forth across the sky. Martin is fortunate to have a cab on his digger, but Diane was exposed to the elements. She put on a hat, put a towel over her lap and finally resorted to driving with an umbrella before taking a break for lunch. We had not anticipated rain on this scale. This creates the added complication of potentially making the stream flow… unusual at this time of year.
Just to add to the fun, my bags of solid gold manure (2 pallets) were delivered at mid-day.
After Martin leaves, the girls kindly start to transport the manure to the mushroom house and fill the beds. When I come to look, I scrutinise the manure and realise that despite Mr Mucks assertions, the manure has been made with wood shavings, not straw!!! I have paid a fortune for the wrong manure, which is now half in the beds, they will get a stern call from me tomorrow!
An Instant Pond!
I was awoken at 7:30am by Aideen shouting up the stairs, “Mum, come quickly, the pond has flooded!”. I came out into the orchard and was confronted by… a pond!
As feared, the rain was so heavy that the steam started to run. The channel/stream that runs through the orchard acts as an overflow for the 3 interlinked ponds behind the church. Normally, it only runs intermittently in the Winter and it has been ‘bone dry’ for several months. The little stream then goes down a pipe into a Tudor culvert running under the kitchen garden.
Yesterday, Martin dug about a quarter of the pond alongside the 10m x 2m x 2m deep trial trench. The exit water pipe had been covered, and therefore blocked, to protect it from the weight of the digger driving over it. During the night, the stream started to flow and the water could not escape, so it filled the hole! This was not an ideal situation for digging to continue, however, it did reveal that Patrick had worked out the levels correctly and it absolutely confirmed that we are right practically and aesthetically to position a pond in this area.
When Martin arrived, he uncovered the pipe so at least some of the water could drain away. This was also reassuring as we will have to create an overflow with a grill at the end of the pond and this unexpected situation showed us that this solution could work perfectly, simply and effectively.
Despite us trying to look on the bright side of our predicament, we still had a hole full of muddy water! Aideen sent a video of the flooded hole to James and he offered to bring us a pump after work, thank you James.
Today was Meave’s birthday, I don’t think she was expecting a pond as a present, and we had planned to go out for lunch as this was now allowed. Therefore, Martin did some work on digging out the basement of the outbuilding and then he dug out the stool of the nut tree that was within the circumference of the pond.
Later that day, Patrick and I looked at this massive set of trunks (a nut stool consists of dozens of mini trunks) and wondered what to do with it. The nut stool weighs tonnes and they are almost impossible to have taken away, could I reuse it in some way? I will have to think carefully!
I carried on with a bit more weeding in the forest garden bed before we went out for lunch, which seemed very strange at first, but did make a lovely change.
It is a bit difficult to know what to do over the coming days with the pond because the weather forecast is terrible. Pip gave it a thorough inspection, balancing precariously around the edge and peering intently into the murky depths. It was hard to tell if she was merely curious or outraged!
We are starting today by digging out the area of the tiny music room extension. As this is a new area to dig, we have to have the archaeologist on site for the day. Not long into digging she spots a ditch! This is apparently significant, so she then continued digging herself by hand to uncover the shape of the ditch and recover any fragments in the soil. Martin and Diane retreated to continue with the basement.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen garden I was doing one of my favourite jobs which is watering the auriculas. I love this job at this time of year because the ceanothus is blooming and covered in bees. It is so peaceful watering the auriculas in the early morning sunshine with a gentle background of humming bees. I noticed one auricula was a bit droopy, so I went off to re-pot it.
I then had a quick walk around. I notice that the alliums are starting to open on the mount and they look lovely. I decided to hoe two of the potato beds because seedling weeds are starting to appear. Ideally, this is what I would do with all beds and borders which is to hoe as soon as weeds appear or even before! However, I am never usually in that enviable position.
I then head back to the forest garden bed to keep weeding and we have a visit from the bee man. He explains that the two new bee colonies created from the swarm both have a queen and are doing well. The ‘bad bee’ colony are still being horrid and they do not have a queen. He intends to let them naturally die out and then he will remove them.
Later in the day, my sweet potato slip arrived and I quickly potted them up before they dried out.
Excavation work was challenging today because we need a steady stream of grab lorries to remove the vast quantity of subsoil, but for a period of time no lorries arrived. We belatedly realised that there was a large funeral at the church and the grab lorries were stuck outside on the road. This is a delicate aspect of living at Church Gardens, because often these occasions result in visitors to the church completely blocking our access.
Luckily the only bad thing that happened today, apart from the enormous heap of soil, was Pip chasing Tiggy into the water pipe in the pond where she remained for at least 15 minutes!
For the last few days, I have been decamping many of my new bedding companion plants and over-wintered plants into the cold frames. This was to free up the areas in the polytunnel beds where I will be planting tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chillies and aubergines. By this point, every spare inch in the tunnel and the cold frames (which are also 42ft long and 3ft wide) is completely covered in plants. When I went to water the plants in the cold frames this morning, I notice several marigolds and tagetes have been munched. One poor specimen had been reduced to a stump!
Unfortunately, this persistently cool wet weather is ideal for slugs, and slugs love marigolds! I decide to mount a rescue operation and remove all the marigolds and tagetes out of the cold frames and put them back into the polytunnel, sitting them on the long propagator mat which is presently switched off.
I retrieved several large slugs from the cold frames and banished them to the orchard. The cold frames are more susceptible to slugs because they have damp hiding places in the rear wall, the environment in the tunnel is drier and less conducive to slug comfort.
Good progress is made with the outbuilding basement hole today, it is now quite deep! Luckily, although chilly and windy, the rain mainly held off. At the end of the day, I stood in the middle of the excavated area trying to gain a sense of the space. I think It will make a very decent place for events and should hold quite a few people, which will be marvellous. We also had a lovely visit from two friends from the church, who did not seem too shocked at the huge holes in the garden which was reassuring.
I spent the day in the forest garden bed and later, the girls and I went to visit Nick at Harefield marina. Nick was the person who introduced Aideen to Mayflower and now he has bought his own narrow boat to restore, I think we may have been a bad influence on him! It was very interesting to see the welding work happening on this boat and very nice to have a chat about restoration projects.
I was rudely awakened at 7am this morning by Aideen shouting up the stairs saying, “Come quick, a tree has come down and is blocking the track!”. I quickly put on some clothes and rushed down the track with the girls. A beautiful, moderately large tree had fallen across the track leading out of the church car park. It was thoroughly blocking the track, you had to go into the graveyard to get around it!
We had to clear it quickly because we had grab lorries due within the hour and no one could even walk down the track. We collected saws and loppers, and Patrick retrieved his chainsaw. Fortunately, Martin had arrived early as usual and he went off to collect the digger to see if that could help in any way. The combination of Patrick on one side with his chainsaw and Martin on the other side with the digger was a winning combination. The girls and I pulled the cut branches out of the way and the digger pushed and pulled the main trunks to the side of the track. Remarkably quickly, the track was clear. Thank God for diggers and brilliant digger drivers!
We trudged back to the house and Diane went off in the dumper to continue digging out the basement of the outbuilding with Martin. One of the main expenses so far with the building project is grab lorries. Sometimes, we can have five grab lorries a day, it is not cheap! We are reusing good topsoil ourselves, but subsoil has to be taken away.
Before I got dad up, I took the opportunity to finish reading through my talk which I finished writing last night. This second talk has taken a long time to write and I have less time to spend on writing at this time of year. It now requires typing out and then it will go through an editing process with Aideen, who is very strict! Then we need to find all of the photos for the presentation, which also takes a long time. I am relieved that I have finished the writing process and I hope people will enjoy this second instalment of our story.
I then head out to the polytunnel. The weather is really wet and I spend the day potting on seedlings into bigger containers. I also sow th