First Find your Veg

November 29, 2010

Hmm, I might have thought it was no weather for digging, but that was until I realised that a fair few componenents of our supper were still frozen into the ground. We’ve not had much snow (not compared to the east coast, anyway) but it’s been pretty cold and what we’ve had hasn’t melted so my first challenge was finding the parsnips and carrots under the snow.

My next challenge was digging them up. The first fork I tried wasn’t really man enough for the task. The second one was wider but had rather feeble tines and while I could get it into the soil, the soil wasn’t going anywhere. Just as I was thinking that we might be having cabbage instead, the landlord offered me a third fork, the really strong one, and I managed to shift a huge slab of frozen soil off the top of my frozen root veg. Then it was just a matter of cracking open the various lumps of permafrost and extracting my carrots and parsnips from them.

And then I had to carry them back. Stupidly, I’d not bothered with the basket, as I was only nipping up to get a few bits and pieces. That’s all very well but you’ve never really had cold fingers until you’ve tried rummaging through icy soil and then carrying a handful of frozen root vegetables home. Thank goodness for the Rayburn, and the strategically placed pair of oven gloves I’d had the sense to lay out on top of it before I went out – the perfect hand defrosters.

Still, at least some people – or things – are enjoying the snow. (Link probably only worth bothering following in daylight hours).

Gardening Leave

November 27, 2010

Today was not a day for doing any digging…

The snow can go one of two ways from here. Either it all just melts away and we forget all about it, or it hangs around until we’re sick of it. Either way, now’s the time to actually enjoy it.


November 26, 2010

The disappearance of the summer’s leaves reveals some interesting things

Like this snug little nest in the climber on the vegetable plot wall.

I hope you like it, because I froze my fingers off taking that photo…


Here’s how it looked this morning. I hope it’s as snug as it looks, if it is being used as a winter roost

Cold and Colderer

November 25, 2010

Every time it has got colder this autumn (although surely it must be winter by now, no?) I think ah, yes, this is what it means to be cold. What I thought was cold before was mere chilliness, a slight nip in the air, no more than brisk autumn weather. Now it is really, properly cold. This is what winter is really all about…

…and then it gets colder again. Now last night, that really was properly cold. A fine, dry night floodlit by the moon which meant I cycled home from choir with my shadow running faintly beside me but blimey it was cold. I had failed to tuck my trousers into my socks and the chill started at my ankles and went deep into my bones. It was too cold to cycle fast because of the wind and too cold to cycle slowly and I got home shivering and grateful for the fire. And then today in the garden, my fingers didn’t so much go numb as feel as though someone had hit them with a hammer and the laundry all but freeze-dried on the line. This is cold, I thought. This is what winter feels like…

… and then I remembered that last winter there were days when I wasn’t able to get a fork in the ground and the river all but froze over and I wouldn’t have ventured out anywhere without longjohns tucked into two pairs of socks, cycling or not cycling. And I’ve decided I’d better just put another log in the stove and settle down to enjoy this balmy autumn weather while it lasts…

Moments of Rural Humiliation

November 24, 2010

Me: Single to Bigtown*

Bus Driver: Pardon

Me: Bigtown

Bus Driver: Pardon?

Me: (slowly and clearly) Single to Bigtown

Bus Driver: Pardon?

Standoff. I mean, this bus only really goes to Bigtown. How much more scottishly do I have to try and say it?

Bus Driver: You mean, “single to Bigtown, please”

Me: Aargh, sorry. I used to live in London, that’s the problem

Bus Driver: That’s nae excuse.

I was even more mortified because I now can’t remember whether I’ve said ‘please’ or not in the past; he’s never mentioned it before. Possibly it’s been bugging him for the last few months and he’s only cracked now. Or possibly it’s because I’ve now taken the bus enough times – about half-a-dozen trips – that I’m sufficiently familiar to be teased about my London ways.

Still, I wasn’t the only one getting grief on this trip. The bus was in the process of sailing through Intervening Village when he slammed on his brakes, backed up to the crossroads and sat waiting while an old biddy came not-particularly hurrying up the side road to the stop. He then reminded her briskly of the timetable before letting her on so we could all set off again.  I’d like to see that happen in a bus in London. But then, in London there’d be another bus along in a minute, as opposed to in a couple of hours as happens here…

*Obviously I didn’t actually say ‘Bigtown’.

Build a Better Mousetrap

November 23, 2010

My mother, as I may have already mentioned, feeds the birds on an industrial scale. She even has a specially constructed bunker outside the house for storing bird food, including a huge plastic tub to hold peanuts for the peanut feeder. The two mice who chewed their way into the tub must have thought they’d reached some sort of mouse heaven. Here were peanuts beyond their wildest dreams, and a lovely dark peaceful place in which to enjoy them…

The flaw in this plan, once the peanut level had dropped as the weeks wore on, must only have occurred to them after they had squeezed through their usual hole and into the tub. Whether it was because the level was now too low for them to jump out again, or that they were just too tubby to get back out the way they had come in, they were now stuck and had no option but to wait for rescue, undoubtedly getting heartily sick of peanuts in the process. Fortunately for the mice, my parents are kind hearted people and merely tipped them out into the garden to go and raid someone else’s stores. But if there’s anyone out there who wants an extremely humane mousetrap, I think this design might be a goer…

Hope 1, Experience 0, after extra time

November 22, 2010

Bleurch. What a day. I’m in Duns at the moment, having spent most of the day sitting in my parents’ ‘sun porch’ listening to the rain hammer against the roof (It’s always a bit of a trade-off between having to listen to the depressing sound of the rain and at least being able to see some daylight, however grey and gloomy). But that doesn’t matter because my mother and I have been visiting Seed Catalogue Land where it is always that moment in spring when the days lengthen and the earth warms up and the first shoots come poking out of the ground. And where they aren’t promptly eaten by something because in Seed Catalogue Land everything is hardy and high-yielding and resistant to all manner of diseases and delicious to humans but not to slugs. And where there are no weeds and no pests because you have purchased all manner of impeccably organic weed-and-pest-destroying devices. Yes, it’s seed-ordering time again, the point of the year when hope triumphs however fleetingly over experience. I love Seed Catalogue Land. I only wish I could live there all the time.

Still, tomorrow we’re heading back to non-Seed Catalogue Land where not only is it still November (seriously, how long does a month need to go on for?) but where I haven’t yet finished digging over my new vegetable empire. But at least I know that I will have some subjects to put in it when it’s done.

What are you ordering?


Off topic, but I’ve just found out that my photo of the other half whizzing through a puddle on a bike has been shortlisted in the EcoVelo  Why I Ride Readers’ Award photo competition (the photo itself is here). The bad news is, it’s coming last, although that might simply be because the other nineteen photos are so much better…


November 21, 2010

I keep reading – or trying to read – articles about the Irish crisis in my efforts to understand just what on earth is going on over there. After all, half my family come from there, some of them still live there, it’s our nearest neighbour and it seems to me to be important but I am continually defeated, despite having a degree in politics and economics and everything. I fail to see how the politicians can be insisting one moment that everything’s fine, nothing to see here, move along, just a small temporary cashflow problem, everything’s under control, and the next minute they’re calling in the IMF, the financial stormtroopers of the modern age, seemingly at the whim of some bond traders somewhere. Then there’s the fact that Ireland seem to have done everything that the powers that be insisted Greece should do and didn’t yet with exactly the same results as Greece had – massive deficit, bond holders revolting, entire country left sitting dejectedly with its cap out and a handwritten sign saying ‘hungry and homeless’. And I scratch my head as to why, given all this, our own government seems to think it’s a good idea to also massively cut spending, depress the economy, cut the tax base and generally trash the entire public sector given what a glittering success that has been in Ireland. And so I keep determinedly settling down with the newspaper and one of those interminable articles about the Celtic Tiger thinking, well this time, surely, it will all make sense, if only I could pay attention.

And then I remember that the Irish Taoiseach’s nickname is Biffo, standing for ‘Big Ignorant Fecker from Offaly’ and I just can’t get past that fact at all. I’m sure I never used to be that childish back in my youth. Anyone else getting less serious as they allegedly grow up? Or is it just me?


November 19, 2010

It’s cold out and the neighbour’s cat clearly wants in. Fair enough – I’d want in too, if I’d been shut out for the day in November – but I wish it wouldn’t let us know this by sitting on the windowsills and staring at us through the windows. Doing the washing up under the supervision of a cat is bad enough but getting undressed and having a shower is something else again. Semi-opaque glass or no semi-opaque glass, there’s something very judgemental about a cat’s gaze…

Counting One’s Cabbages

November 18, 2010

After the relentless grimness of yesterday, today’s been one of those brisk, grey windy days when you play the odds: balancing the drying effect of the wind against the risk of rain. In between heats of the hundred-yard laundry rescue dash, I ventured up to harvest our next installment of cabbage. There was a fine-looking one at the edge of the bed but when I went to pick it I found it was a hollow sham: the slugs had neatly nibbled through the base of the heart and had eaten out all the insides leaving only the outer leaves.

I haven’t really done too well with cabbages this year; after the fun and games with the caterpillars last year I did net my brassicas, but while the broccoli are looking reasonably perky, the cabbages are less convincing. Partly because, while the landlord built an elaborate and impregnable netting complex nicknamed Fort Knox, my netting was more along the lines of ‘drape it over some sticks and hope for the best’ and more than once I’d come up and find a butterfly or two inside, trying to get out. What the netting did do was to serve to discourage regular picking of the caterpillars which made it in and also seemed to have made a delightful microclimate for slugs to flourish in. So the end result is that my cabbages, while of course delicious*, are a little lacy on the outside and rather small once you’ve worked your way down to the non-chewed layer. Always assuming that there is one.

I got my revenge this time by feeding the remains, along with its inhabitant slugs, to the chickens, and I picked another one which was fine, if a little small, but I think cabbages are something I’m going to have to work at next year. I have found that the vegetables I struggled with last year have done much better this year, which is probably down to the weather, but I’m hoping that a small amount of it might be my improved gardening skills. Well, let me dream. At least the cabbages are doing better than the leeks, which is a story for another day.

*adjusted for being cabbage