March 28, 2018

Are you bored of the raised beds yet? Well tough, although I’ll spare you the unboxing video.

If I had done a video it would mostly have been me scratching my head because the various pieces come with precisely zero instructions. However, we (and by ‘we’ obviously I mean the other half) have worked out how they seem to need to be linked together. It’s actually fairly straightforward, although that doesn’t mean I won’t still attempt to do it wrong in some way …

Today, it being mostly dry except for the precise moment when I set off for the paper on the bike, I managed to finish digging out where the first three joined beds will go.

raised bed not fitting

Hmm, more digging needed

Well, almost …

raised bed fitting

A little further digging and things are taking shape. I’m still not entirely sure how I will manage the process of moving the earth around and knocking the pegs in that should hold the whole thing in place, but I will definitely get the other half to check before I do anything too irrevocable.

Meanwhile, a load of crap awaits. And not a metaphorical one either …

bags filled with horse poo

Raising Cain

March 27, 2018

My raised beds arrived yesterday – with somewhat less than brilliant timing as I’m only halfway through preparing the place where the first three will go, and last night the rain came down all night leaving the soil too soggy for standing on, let alone digging.

You might ask why I need to dig at all, given that the whole point of raised beds is that you can put them anywhere and fill them with soil. This is true, but I also thought that it might be good to remove the top layer of grass first, just to stop it all from growing through. And then it occurred to me that it would be good to have the topsoil set aside to add to the beds, seeing as I’ve got so many to fill. And then I decided that as the veg plot slopes the wrong way (south to north, effectively) it would make sense to make the top beds slightly sunken so that they don’t shade out the lower beds as much. And anyway sometimes when you’ve got a lot of bitty stuff on and a lot of it’s out of your control and there may be an element of cat herding going on, it’s good to dig …

raised bed preparation

Be that as it may, today was too wet for me to get on with any of that, so I’ve been getting on with clearing out all the dead leaves and stems and generally tidying up the more (eventually) decorative part of the garden. I’m still feeling a bit unsure what to do about this. Inheriting a once-beautifully-landscaped but not to your taste garden is even worse than inheriting a brand new but not to your taste kitchen – at least with a kitchen, you can leave it for 10 years until you feel justified in remodelling it and it won’t get any worse. With the garden, the vague plan remains to get the productive bits (greenhouse, raised beds, fruit cage) sorted while keeping on top of the rest of it and then tackle the more decorative bits once we’re clearer what I want other than ‘not 5 different kinds of gravel and a water feature’. The hope is that as I add plants and try and reclaim the more neglected areas one at a time, a garden will gradually emerge out of the process. The fear is that it will all just revert to wilderness as I fail to get to grips with it.

Today was supposed to just be a bit of ‘keeping on top of it’ pottering but I did decide to just hoick out a clump of lady’s mantle that had got itself established among some stones. Lady’s mantle is one of those plants that is technically not a weed, but it self seeds everywhere and it never really looks that brilliant so I am trying to root it out where I can. This one was mixed in with some grasses which I suspect are just ordinary grass but which got promoted to ‘ornamental’ last year as they did have quite attractive seed heads.

I have blogged in the past about the dangers of taking on any project which starts with the word ‘just’ – in this case, it turns out that even quite small clumps of lady’s mantle have root systems that go all the way down to hell, and then some. This is just the stuff that I got out. I’d like to think that will have dealt with it, but I suspect I may just have reinvigorated it …

lady's mantle clump

Maybe ‘reverting to wilderness’ isn’t such a bad plan after all


March 23, 2018

foot and bike prints

I was just hopping off my bike at the post office yesterday afternoon, having cycled up to New Nearest Village for a smear test,* and on my way to on a friend to pick up some post from our old address, because obviously this being Bigtown, one of her colleagues has moved into our old cottage and is passing it on to her, and it struck me that this was a perfect multi-errand ride, just the sort of thing to get you ahead of the game if it were Errandonneering season. And then I remembered it was Errandoneering season – in fact the 2018 Errandonnee had started 3 days ago, during which time I had unwittingly done six excellent bike-based errands, including cyling to get a lift to choir (Arts and Entertainment), taking my bike to the bike shop to not get serviced (it’s a bit reassuring that the bike shop doesn’t find it straightforward to maintain my bike either) (um, Personal Care?) going to shovel horse manure into bags (um, not actually sure what category that goes in. I didn’t actually haul any of it back by bike or it would definitely have qualified as ‘You Carried WHAT on your Bike?’). Anyway, it’s all moot as I hadn’t properly recorded the rides in question and if it’s about nothing else, errandonneering is about sticking to the rules (which is, before you all get a bit sniffy in the comments about unnecessarily elaborate rules, all part of the fun).

spring sky

Spring clouds for illustrative purposes only. Lark not included. Picture posed by model. Serving suggestion

Today my only bike-borne errand was to fetch the paper – category Store – except that I also heard the first lark of spring singing its little heart out on the way there, and spotted the first lambs near us on the way back and it was very cheering after the winter we have been having. So maybe stopping to appreciate both counts as a Peaceful Everyday Action?

Clearly I don’t really need a hashtag and a challenge to get me out running errands on my bike, but if you’ve never given Errandonneering a go, there’s still time, and if winter can just bring itself to stay away for good this time, it might even be fun.

* Chaps: sorry if that was too much information but they save lives so I thought what the hell, why be coy about it? It’s been reading about other people’s that has finally nudged me into to making an appointment to get it done until, so hopefully this will give someone else the nudge they need.

Mucking In

March 21, 2018

As birthdays go, one where you suddenly have a 700 page manuscript to do a final check on (and can we have it by Thursday) isn’t really up there. On the other hand, cake for breakfast is always good, and so is adding to the teetering pile of to-be-read books on my bedside cabinet (they all get read eventually; I don’t understand why some people think a large pile of unread books is a bad thing somehow), plus veeery fancy merino from the other half. And to cap it all, I spent the afternoon with a pal shovelling some nice well-rotted manure into feedsacks ready for it to be transported up here to fill my raised beds when they arrive.

Gardeners will understand why this genuinely does count as a birthday treat …

Getting Shirty

March 19, 2018

All this sourdough and gardening is all very well, I hear* you cry – but what of your plans to get better at bike maintenance in 2018?

Well – I have news, of sorts. One advantage of the current weather (it’s spring! It’s winter! It’s getting warmer! Fooled you, it’s minus five!) is that I’ve got almost speedy at swapping my winter wheels on and off, at least the front one. and the bike is booked in for a service tomorrow, and high on the list of things to be done are getting a new back wheel that’s the same width as the front wheel (and my winter wheel), and getting new brakes that don’t get jammed on and have a quick release for speedier wheel swapping (hopefully they won’t also result in me ending up headfirst in a ditch as I’m not that used to super effective brakes that actually, you know, stop the bike)

Today, it being sunny, if not exactly warm, I thought I’d better give the bike a quick wash and also put all the tools back in my tool roll having taken them all out the last time I switched the wheels round. They had been wrapped up in a bit of old shirt to stop them rattling and provide something to wipe the worst of the grease off with, but that had died a death, so I finally got around to pulling a new old shirt out of the pile of shirts to go into the garage to act as rags.

In fact, this was one of my favourite shirts ever, despite costing £2 at Elephant and Castle market, and I had only stopped wearing it once its initial ‘shabby chic’ (humour me) vibe had passed through to ‘shabby’ and then ‘possibly homeless’. So rather than just cutting it up as a rag, I put a little bit more thought into it and decided to utilise the pocket (this was part of why I liked it so much – pockets!) and button hole to make a nice inner tool roll insert:

cut up shirt

This is about as crafty as I get, so humour me here.

assembled tools

Slightly random assortment of tools.

With the tools in place I rolled it up and sewed a button on so it could be buttoned closed using the existing button hole. (I’d like to say that this was the work of seconds, but it turns out I’m as embarrassingly rubbish at sewing as I am at bike maintenance)

tool roll buttoned up

Once installed, it almost looks as if it was the sort of thing you could buy for £25 from Brooks as an accessory for your tool roll.

tool roll with insert

There being a little space left, I added a handful of these in the corners – I can’t remember where I read the tip about having sweets in with your bike tools for those moments when you’re trying to refit a Marathon Plus tyre by the side of the road in a howling gale in November, but it struck me as very sound advice.

coffee sweets

Final bike maintenance essential (along with a tenner for a taxi home)

I’m now hoping that Sod’s Law means all this preparation will guarantee I don’t get to use my tools again … but I’ve a feeling it doesn’t quite work that way.

*OK, so I made this up.

Spring Unstrung

March 17, 2018

As spring cycling goes, struggling up the hill from New Nearest Village (which manages to be uphill from our house in both directions), towing a trailer full of empty feed bags (top tip for rural folk – don’t ask on your local village freecycle if anyone has any feed bags; it turns out everyone here feeds the birds on an industrial scale and they apparently never throw anything away), into an icy wind with the snow swirling about me at the same time as the (surprisingly warm) spring sunshine was warming my face, pretty much sums up the the kind of season we’ve had.

On the plus side, if it didn’t weigh so much even when it’s empty, I think I’d probably tow that trailer everywhere.* Whether it’s the apparent width of it (no wider than my handlebars, but it still manages to make me apparently more three-dimensional than when I’m not towing it), the fact that it makes it clear I’m not out cycling for the hell of it, I’m busy doing important things like moving empty feed sacks around, or perhaps the possibility that I have a child or even a dog in there, drivers do pass you with much more space even on our B road. This is an extra bonus when your eyes are watering so much you can barely see – and you’re having to pedal to make any headway even once you get to the downhill bit.

Still, it could be worse. We’ve visiting relatives who are (hopefully) on their way to us after a trip to Ireland. It apparently took three goes even to get out of the harbour and into the Force 7 gale. As cheering thoughts go, when plugging up a hill on a bike with the wind trying to knife its way into one ear and out the other, ‘at least I’m not on the Belfast-Stranraer ferry’ is a bit feeble, but for Spring 2018 it will have to do …

*I wonder if there’s a crowdfunder somewhere for a trailer that weighs almost nothing. It wouldn’t have to be much good at carrying anything, just take up space on the road. Maybe something inflatable? Or a hologram?

I’ll See your Veg and Raise you …

March 16, 2018

Vegetable plot in March

vegetable plot master plan

Master plan. Version 1 …

As I mentioned earlier, plans are afoot for raised beds in the veg plot, which is currently home to some overwintering and just-about-to-bolt leeks and some hare-nibbled kale. Indeed, I had gone so far as to measure out the space available, work out the size of raised beds I wanted and draw up an actual plan. I was quite pleased with myself at having done this by myself, no mean feat with a tape measure that’s not actually as long as the longest stretch of the vegetable plot.

Having sourced some locally made recycled plastic raised beds, and realised how expensive the whole thing was going to be, I then effectively parked the project to think about it for a while, until I either made a decision or some raised beds miraculously fell out of the sky, but with spring approaching and no alternatives magically presenting themselves, I ordered a single raised bed unit to see whether they looked okay in real life.

This arrived yesterday, about 3 hours after the email telling me it would be coming in 3-7 working days (always good to manage your customers’ expectations), so today I went out to do one last check of my measurements and set the bed up where it was likely to end up. Hmm. Top tip for gardeners: always best to ensure you have included the widths of the paths between the raised beds in your masterplan…

After recruiting the other half, a bit of re-measuring, the removal of one buddleia bush (don’t worry about the butterflies, the garden is currently about 30% buddleia by volume), the demolition of the hare defences, and the remeasuring of the space, we worked out that we did have space for everything, got the trial raised bed up and had a look.

recycled plastic raised bed

It is quite shiny, although I suspect that won’t last. Much as I like the aesthetic of wooden beds, I like the thought of adding to the market for recycled plastic products even more, so we’ve decided to go for it and buy 10 more to complete my master plan.

The master plan also includes better hare defences, and I’m thinking we can move our bay trees into the plot as well, as they seem to get fairly heavily nibbled by the hares, especially in the snow. But then again, there wasn’t much else in the garden they could eat during the snow apart from the kale. Obviously it would be ridiculous to have extra bay trees elsewhere in the garden, just for the hares. So we definitely won’t be doing that. Definitely. Ridiculous idea.

hare outside front door

Anyone know what other plants hares particularly like to eat?

Advance Warning

March 13, 2018

At the risk of incurring the ire of Huttonian – who is agin them, for some reason – here are some daffodils blooming away cheerfully at the foot of the climb up to our house

daffodils in bloom

Daffodils. Mental note to self: check for dog poo before getting off the bike to take photos

It says something about the difference a couple of hundred feet of altitude makes when you consider the most advanced daffs in our garden (which are right by the septic tank, coincidentally or not…)

daffodils not blooming

We find our raspberries and blackberries are a week or two later up here too, which at least gives me some notice to be ready to pick them (although the blackberries are actually much nicer at the bottom of the hill, probably through some quirk of genetics rather than the different microclimate.

This year, our tardy daffs may have the last laugh as it seems we’ve another bout of frost if not snow on the way. I read somewhere that we may also be due a gloriously hot and sunny May as part of this whole weather vortex thing. I can’t remember where – and to be frank it could be the Met Office or it could be the Daily Express or it could be someone with a strand of seaweed nailed outside their kitchen window and I’m still going to choose to believe it because that’s what I’m hanging on for at this stage of the game…

Potato Day: You can Run but you can’t Hide

March 11, 2018

We weren’t going to go to Potato day this year as I was supposed to be in Glasgow that weekend and anyway, my veg plot is in a state of dilapidation: having made the decision to switch to raised beds, I haven’t actually done anything about it, except to pile up some manure and compost where the veg beds are likely to be and spend a lot of time looking at raised bed options on the Internet.

This all seemed reasonable when the garden was under several inches of snow, but the snow has melted and there are unmistakable signs of spring everywhere, not the least of which was it being, help, March already. And then we learned that Potato Day had been postponed by the snow like everything else to today and it sort of all came together: we had the time, and my parents were planning on going, and perhaps picking up a few seed potatoes would be the best way to gee me into action in the garden. So the decision was made: a quick dash over to Kelso for a few seed potatoes, lunch with my parents, and back in time for tea.

potato day 2013

The doors were due to open at noon – an hour later than the normal time of 11am, a fact which had apparently had to be broadcast on Borders radio to prevent a gardening related riot when the military wing* of the gardening classes of southern Scotland arrived at the Borders Showground at 11 sharp and were denied entry. We arrived at about 11:45 – just as my parents did the same – to discover that the fleece-clad stormtroops had already forced the doors or otherwise gained entry, and Potato Day was in full swing, ready or not. The other half – an old hand by now – quickly bailed out from the serious potato scrum side of the event and went to check out the shortbread emporium side of the operation, which is generally more civilised. I headed straight for the hot tickets (Charlotte, Shetland Dark, Rocket) added in a wild card (Saxon), and got out while the going was good. My parents, also old hands by now, did the same and – after being briefly detained at the stall of the mad jam woman (I’m not being rude, that’s what she calls herself although she seemed fairly sane to us – that said, we haven’t actually tasted the chilli relish that she described as being ‘medium hot’ yet so time will tell (we declined to go for the rather more threatening sounding Arson Fire)) – we escaped just as all the people who had actually listened to the announcement on the radio and showed up for noon as they were told were queuing up at the door.

Once outside, having extracted our car and helped extract various others from the quagmire that the parking had become (possibly the fact that Potato Day was organised by BOG should have tipped us off…) we headed for lunch at a nearby garden centre, reasoning that it might be a bit quieter (TOP TIP: do not attempt to have a quiet lunch at a garden centre on Mothering Sunday), and then just thought we’d have a little look at the vegetable seeds on display on the way out, bearing in mind the state of the veg plot, etc. etc., no harm in browsing after all. And so now I have a full vegetable plot’s worth of seed to plant, not to mention three beds’ worth of seed potatoes, and it looks like I’d better get on with those raised beds after all …

* regular readers will be aware that potato day, far from being a gentle celebration of the humble tuber in all its variety, is a hotly contested competitive event and not for the faint hearted.

There are some days …

March 9, 2018

… especially at this time of year, when if you don’t have any errands to run on the bike, you have to invent some …

snow melting by the road

Now that the snow is mostly gone – for now at least – time to venture out into the garden to see what has survived the onslaught of winter.

My Fromaldi plants – having gamely kept on flowering for ages – are looking a bit sorry for themselves (on a spectrum from ‘battered but unbowed’ to ‘dead on arrival’), but two of the Gaura seedlings I planted out at the beginning of autumn have survived so far, although they are not looking completely convincing.

Gaura plant

The tulips I planted seem to be coming up, stripey leaves and all, which is exciting. The olive tree has completely shed its leaves again, clearly having failed to read that it’s supposed to be evergreen. At least, I hope that that’s the problem, although I’m beginning to think that if you want a Mediterranean garden, the best place to plant one is in the Mediterranean (but where would be the fun in that, the gardeners cry)

tulips emerging

And then there’s the greenhouse, last seen with snow drifting under its door. Ages back, being keen to get going, the other half planted out some mixed lettuce seed in there. Clearly this was a doomed enterprise as we have since had at least two separate weeks of sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow, and our greenhouse is not a heated one so tender little lettuce seedlings stood precisely no chance

lettuce seedlings

Fortunately, they haven’t read the instructions either.