It was Cutting it Fine …

May 31, 2021

… but May finally came good.

sunny day with blue skies and cow parsley flowering

The may is even out, at last. Let the clout casting commence.

Hawthorn (may) blossom

We can depend on very little when it comes to the weather around here, but having one precious week of fine warm weather towards the end of May had started to feel like something we could count on. It’s a few days late but it does appear to be here, squeezing into May by the skin of its teeth.

Naturally, I shall be spending it mostly chained to the laptop, but at least I’ve got the daily paper run to enjoy it in.

Potemkin Garden

May 30, 2021

We had actual visitors to our house on Saturday, the first since (checks calendar – jeeze, can that be right?) August, which meant not only an epic amount of scurryfunging* in the house but some hasty gardening in order to at least find our bench so our guests would have somewhere to sit…

Tidy bench and seating area

I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo but this shot of an epic hailstorm earlier in the month may give you an idea of how much needed to be done.

weedy bench area in the middle of a hailstorm

Respectable as it looks from the right camera angle (thanks largely to the other half’s regular strimming and mowing), an hour an a half’s hasty Friday night gardening can’t do much to salvage your reputation as a gardener when your back garden looks like this.

Very weedy back patio and garden

In my defence, a patio which is ankle deep in dandelions is also often ankle deep in goldfinches, which like the seedheads and regularly shoot up out of the undergrowth when I head out the back door (indeed, as I was standing in the front door admiring my handiwork around the bench, a goldfinch turned up and perched in the little tree by the pot and had some strong things to say in goldfinchish about the devastation I had just wrought to his happy hunting ground). Perhaps we should turn the entire garden over to the hares and the goldfinches and just have a machete to hand to cut a path to the gate as needed.

Anyway, a fine afternoon and the sight of some actual fruit on the fruit bushes in the fruit not-yet-cage was the prompt today to finally finish the job before the wildlife got those too.

fruit cage with netting

Although, if my experience with the landlord’s fruit cage is anything to go by, we’ll probably be spending the summer ushering birds off the premises that have worked out how to get in, but are completely clueless as to how to get out.

* A possibly made up word for the act of hastily cleaning the house when you have visitors coming.

The Way We Leave Now

May 26, 2021

How do you give a proper sendoff in the time of Corona to two people who have been stalwarts of your local cycle campaign since its inception?

Group riding bikes

With a bike ride, of course (sorry, what was the question?)

Normally we’d have headed to the pub but even though they are open, numbers are limited, sitting indoors still feels too risky, and besides an evening bike ride in the long days of May just felt like it might be a nicer idea.

Group arriving at the nature reserve

We headed to one of my favourite places, a peat bog that almost ended up buried under a pine plantation. It’s been neglected in the past but I was pleased to learn that it is being restored (‘rewetted’ in the trendy new phrase) and it was looking rather fine in the evening sunlight. As we went for a quick walk (after coffee and home baking had been consumed, naturally) and heard – and then saw – a cuckoo. There are nightjars there as well, and plenty of insect life (almost certainly 99.9% of which by number was in the form of midgies, but you know, biodiversity is biodiversity and it doesn’t always have to be pleasant to be around). The weather more or less played ball – at least, it didn’t hail, which is the new low bar for May – and as we finally headed for home, the almost full moon rose over the clouds beside us and much as we like to scoff at the modern fad for declaring everything a supermoon, it was an impressive sight.

I don’t believe that in the end any of us would have swapped the evening for a more traditional leaving do down at the Dog and Duck. Indeed, as someone who has long substituted a bike ride for any form of birthday party, I am fully on board with the idea of swapping pretty much all celebrations for a cycling excursion, even when the pandemic (hopefully) fades. Friends and family, you have been warned …


May 22, 2021

At the risk of this becoming less a personal blog about country life and more a garden snuff movie, it’s time to talk about the asparagus bed. Or rather the lack of it.

Having spent actual money buying actual asparagus crowns, I was rather hoping that I’d at least have some actual asparagus by now. I knew I’d have to be patient before we got a real harvest, but I did think that the way it worked was that every year we’d get more and it would build up to a reasonable amount. I was prepared to wait a couple of years while that happened but I had, perhaps foolishly, assumed a certain amount of forward progress during that time. Instead what seems to have happened is that of the 15 crowns I planted two years ago, just two appear to have survived, one producing three miniature shoots which the slugs promptly demolished, and one which appears to have produce one reasonable sized spear with no apparent plans in place to produce any more.

So I did what I’m sure any reasonable gardener would do in my position: I cut my losses.

Reader, it was delicious.

Behold, there has been Gardening Done

May 15, 2021
Garden veg beds before planting

Not much, admittedly, but some.

veg beds with some seedlings planted out

Mangetouts, beans and half the chard has been planted out, with the salad, peas and beetroot still to come. That will leave me filling a few gaps to replace the things that have totally failed so far this year. It does seem to have been a tricky spring for lots of gardeners, not just me (although I can’t really blame the weather, having simply failed to do any meaningful gardening for the past couple of months).

Now that the weather and the soil is warming up a bit I’m actually trying something I haven’t attempted for ages: planting stuff direct into the soil, rather than raising everything in modules first. Back in the days when I first started gardening up here, I quickly gave that up as a waste of time as very little ever came up and what did was promptly eaten by the slugs. But that was when I was young and keen and trying to get everything going in March. Now that I’ve reached the ‘help, how is it May already?’ stage of my gardening career I might just have left it late enough that the seeds will germinate on their own, although that still leaves those bastards the slugs

Of course, leaving it to May to get started does give things less time to grow, so there’s a danger I’ll end up with puny undersized vegetables like, say, leeks the size of spring onions.

Not that I’m a stranger to that at all.

That’s just the veg side of things, which is actually the easy bit (raised beds are amazing at keeping the weeding effort down). I draw a veil over the rest of the garden which is going hard down the ‘dandelions are an excellent food source for pollinators’ route.

Meanwhile, in other news there has also been recycling done:

recycling bag at road end

Be still, my beating heart, be still.

Life Histories

May 9, 2021

So, I went out for a 40-mile solo ride this afternoon, as you apparently do when you’re breaking the habit of a lifetime and semi seriously training for something. And I have to admit, given the brisk wind and the random showers (which at least weren’t hailstorms or snow showers, I suppose – it’s come to something when the Weather Gods have managed our expectations to the point that liquid precipitation in May is considered an improvement) that I wasn’t exactly feeling the whole cycling love as I set out.

empty road and gloomy skies

But I’d wanted to make sure I could stand my own company and keep my speed respectable (as well as navigate …) on longer rides, and as I powered up one of the last hills, I was feeling pretty good, despite the fact that I was doing so into a serious headwind. I was on course to manage 40 miles (including a 25 minute cafe stop and a short pause while a man on a quad bike attempted to round up an escaping cow that was galloping along on the road) in four hours, I hadn’t seriously fallen with myself and I was replete with coffee and cake, neither of which I’d had to make myself.

Looking down over a river valley

As is traditional round here, I paused to exchange pleasantries with an older man who was standing by the side of the road looking a bit amused at my slow progress up the hill, and we got to chatting, during which I learned that he used to deliver bin lorries (‘and Postman Pat vans’) all around the country (it is only as I type this that I realise I have many questions about bin lorry delivering), and that he currently makes walking sticks with rams’ horn handles, some of which were rather amazingly cool – he dug out an actual packet of actual photos (as you might pick up from an actual chemist, circa 1994) to show me and I’m now wondering who in my life might appreciate such a thing. And then, he having given me his card, we parted ways and I cycled home feeling that the whole outing had been made worthwhile.

single track road with passing place sign

One of the things I love about living here is the way random strangers will occasionally just tell me their life story in the course of a bus journey, a cycle ride, or a roadside chat. As a Londoner it’s always a little startling, but I always appreciate it when it happens. Lockdown has meant those moments have been rather few and far between, but if getting out further and more often on the bike means more of them then that alone will have made it all worthwhile.

empty road through forest

Gardener’s Confession Time

May 8, 2021

Although seriously, how little do you have to have gardened during spring in order to be considered an ex gardener?

In today’s findings from the School of the Bleeding Obvious, it turns out being heavily involved in three cycle campaigns, while having two freelance jobs inconveniently overlap with each other and also vaguely trying to become faster at cycling means that something has to give and this year what has given has been the garden.

untended vegetable patch

At some point towards the end of March and the beginning of April, I did throw some seeds into some compost and leave them in the greenhouse to more or less fend for themselves. The results have been … mixed. The chard, peas, salad, beans, mangetout and beetroot have at least emerged and are so far tolerating my tardiness at planting them out (on the bright side, it’s been hailing on a daily basis for the last week or so if I had actually got my act together long enough to plant them out they’d have risked being pulped by now). The leeks, kale and most of the broccoli declined to germinate at all, the fennel germinated and thought better of it, and carrot seedlings have come up in multiple places but not anywhere I actually planted them.

seedlings in modules

On the other hand, the strawberries, which got put in the greenhouse temporarily while we were preparing the fruit cage, have grown rather used to the life of Reilly and may be in for a rude shock when they’re transferred to the great outdoors.

strawberry hanging baskets

The fruit cage has been filled with plants from an actual nursery and isn’t looking too bad as far as the planting goes. But there’s something it still lacks … I just can’t quite put my finger on what it is …

fruit cage without netting

Fortunately rhubarb more or less grows itself

Rhubarb patch

(we’ve just had the first crumble of the season and very delicious it was too)

Rhubarb stalks

The same cannot really be said for asparagus (there are three, count ’em, shoots emerging in this photo and (not entirely unrelated) I’ve done more weeding while taking that photo than I have in the past month).

Asparagus shoots emerging

And that’s just the edible parts of the garden. Everything else is just having to get on with things by themselves, save for the bits the other half tends to. This is no doubt excellent news for the wildlife, but getting a little embarrassing for me…

How does your garden grow?

Further, Furtherest

May 5, 2021

As I mentioned before, I’m on a bid to extend my cycling range for reasons not unconnected to this. I’ve even been training – or ‘training’ anyway – with a mixture of faster rides and trying to up my weekly mileage, although I don’t think I’ve still managed to reach the average distance I was riding each week pre lockdown just by dint of having a busy life and getting to most of it by bike.

Road up to Eskdalemuir

On Saturday I was able to put all this effort to the test with my longest ride to date, out to Eskdalemuir and back, a mere 69 miles and many many feet of climbing. This took me and my long-suffering companion (long-suffering more for the fact that after several long rides in each other’s company we’re mostly just repeating our best anecdotes than for the ride itself, as he’s much fitter and faster than me, although I think he was regretting not switching out his single geared hub this weekend) seven and a half hours, which was much faster than my last big outing, and left me feeling that my next big adventure, should I actually attempt it, might actually be doable. I didn’t even feel that broken afterwards, although going up and down stairs was a bit interesting. (I would like to register a complaint with the weather gods though: I do know all about not casting a clout till May is out, thank you, but was it really necessary to treat us to a snow shower as we climbed back out of the valley after our lunch stop? And while we’re on the subject, what is it with all the hail?)

Garmin GPS unit

Anyhoo this morning a parcel arrived which promises to up my training game further (it is one of my great pleasures in life to give a second home to people’s slightly obsolete pieces of technology (see also keyboards, and every phone that Back on My Bike has owned) that might otherwise go to landfill). However, it comes with its own hazards. I’ve been spreadsheet free for almost a decade now, and I’ve never looked back, although I do still occasionally feel a slight wistfulness that I’m no longer tracking my Eddington number. Starting to record and log my rides in an attempt to gauge my improvement … well it could just be the thing that tips me back into relapse. Add in modern tracking apps and, from what I’ve seen on line, that way madness lies (google Veloviewer tiles to get a flavour of the sort of obsession that can develop). Clearly I’m going to have to limit my use of the thing to strictly necessary purposes only. And stay well clear of the spreadsheets.

That said … it would be nice to know my Eddington number again. I quite like the idea of being the sort of person who’s still increasing it into their eighties …