How Much Wood can a Wood Chipper Chip?

September 8, 2017

It was all go outside my study window this morning as men arrived bearing machinery…

wood chipper

Our beautiful copper beech tree, which has been planted too close to the power line that goes over our property, was due a bit of a haircut.

copper beech before

It’s a shame because it wants to be a huge and imposing tree, and we are forced to keep reducing it back down to the size and shape of a lollipop, but it’s better than losing the tree. Someone who knows more about trees than me can undoubtedly explain why it’s gone from purple to green in the process

copper beech after

While they were there, they agreed to give the goat willow pollard, which is also large and imposing but really in the wrong place, an even more radical haircut. It will grow back; I think it’s technically impossible to kill a willow.

goat willow before

It was all done with impressive speed (I have pollarded trees and that willow would have taken me about a week, rather than the 20 minutes it took them) and left us with a nice stack of willow logs which won’t make particularly brilliant firewood but are unexpectedly decorative in cross section. We also got a nice pile of wood chippings for the garden and would have had an even larger one if they could have dropped off the pile they already had in their truck but they had already lost an argument with our gatepost and decided against further manoeuvres.

willow logs

In theory, this should let the sun into what we are only half jokingly calling the Mediterranean garden (it’s where the olive tree is after all)

mediterranean garden

If the sun ever makes an appearance, I’ll let you know how that goes.

Meanwhile, there is exciting news of the ford, but that will have to wait for another day.

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Exciting Tree Survival News

August 31, 2017

So, I thought that the cow vs tree saga might have come to a premature end when the local farmer moved a bunch of beasts* down the road, and I assumed that included our neighbours. But no sooner had I gone out to dig up some potatoes for our supper this evening, when I realised I had drawn an audience.

drawing a crowd

They soon resumed their assault on the tree, and although they looked as if they were more interested in the tree tube than the tree inside it, they were managing to bend it over to the point that I worried for the top of the tree. I clearly hadn’t attached it solidly enough to the fence. Nothing a zip tie couldn’t fix…

cow vs tree

Except that is easier said than done

cow closeup

When you are being licked to death.

cow nose

In the end I had to call the other half out so one of us could secure the tree and the other fended off our new best friends. Then, with a feeling of a job well done, we settled down to enjoy a drink in the last of the evening sunshine.

cow audience

Just have to shake off that sensation that we were being watched, that’s all …

* That’s what they call livestock around here. It makes farming sound a hell of a lot more exciting than I expect it really is.


The Return of Moo-I-5

August 28, 2017

Just after we moved in, now over a year ago, we were pleased to wake one morning to discover we had some new neighbours – the cows, soon dubbed Moo-I-5 for their habit of watching our every move.

cow next to ash sapling

Our first sight of the cows next door …

The downside of cows-for-neighbours, we were soon to discover was that everything withing cow-reach promptly became cow-lunch. This included a little ash sapling that had established itself right on the fence.

ash and cow annotated

That first picture wasn’t very clear, so I have annotated it

And was shortly reduced to a stick.

ash stick

And if you’re thinking, well at least its got a few leaves left, they went the next day

That, we thought, was the end of that, which is a shame because we like trees and ash are great for firewood and it might have provided a bit of shelter from the prevailing westerly winds. Anyway, time passed and the cows went off to pastures new, and we noticed that the ash sapling was not actually dead (why this should come as a surprise I’m not quite sure as all the other ash saplings which weren’t in quite such a suitable location and had been cut down were also resprouting, but the cows had done a pretty thorough job of chewing it down)

ash resprouting

I’m afraid, I’m a sucker for anything that survives against the odds, even an ash tree that is technically a weed, so I stuck a tree tube on it and awaited the return of the cows …

ash in tree tube

They were a bit later this year than last but pretty soon we had a black and white audience watching over the fence when we ventured outside …

cow attacking tree tube

… and having a good go at the tree when they figured we weren’t looking

So far, the tree tube has held out against a fairly determined onslaught (they appear to be attempting to lick it to death) but watch this space.

OK, so it’s not exactly the ford, but it will have to do.

 


Bikes Bearing Gifts

August 21, 2017

Heading out for the paper this lunchtime after a hard morning compiling the Cycling Embassy Bike Blog Roundup, I was startled to discover someone had left a mysterious offering on the doorstep.

plastic bag

A plastic bag! That’s worth 5p you know

A quick glance inside revealed blackcurrant cuttings, but no note. I was puzzled because I didn’t think any of the tiny handful of people who live within walking distance of us would be bringing blackcurrant cuttings unannounced, but I definitely had not heard a car.

blackcurrant cuttings

A message on my phone quickly cleared up the mystery: my friend with the e-bike had taken advantage of its ability to zoom effortlessly up hills to drop them off. Clearly I was too absorbed to hear her knock on the door – and the bike was too silent to alert me to her arrival. As downsides to e-bikes go, it’s pretty minor but I’m sorry to have missed her, if only so I could see for myself what The Hill is like on the bike.

Anyway, the blackcurrants have been potted up and will make a fine addition to our fruit cage when we actually get around to putting one up. They’ll probably be full size by then …

blackcurrant cuttings potted up


Shooting Blanks

August 17, 2017

I managed an hour or two in the garden today, and not a moment too soon as the sole surviving pumpkin plant appears to be mounting a bid for freedom.

pumpkin plant

It doesn’t appear to be mounting much of an effort to grow pumpkins though – the few little fruits it has produced have tended to rot off before they amount to much. This may be sheer loneliness – I planted out four squash and four pumpkin plants this spring, and it is the sole survivor of the rampant slug army that is inhabits the garden. Despite many dozens of them meeting their doom in the beer traps, there seems to be no end to them; perhaps I should stop buying them rounds …

slugs

Perhaps I should also stop providing neat little slug starter homes…

Despite the slugs, and some rampant neglect of my own, the plot has proved surprisingly fertile ground for the plants that did survive. None of my French beans made it past the hopeful seedling stage, and the curly kale just evaporated without trace but the red winter kale is looking pretty good, if somewhat slug-chewed, the beetroot has already provided several meals and is wonderfully sweet* and the peas have just gone beserk. They have resisted all attempts to be propped up so picking them involves wading into the patch and pulling out the pods before the tendrils can fasten themselves around your ankles, but for the first time in years we’ve had enough peas to cook and eat, rather than just be scoffed straight from the pod. I think this may be first-plot syndrome – they always seem to do well on new ground, and then are never quite so good again (she says, grandly, having had all of three veg plots in her entire life).

peas

Tonight’s supper, which was, as tradition demands, delicious

My broad beans are a sad disappointment though. They are producing magnificent pods but there’s just nothing in them or almost nothing. Clearly with that and the pumpkin, there’s a lack of pollination going on. We seem to have a fair few bees about, but perhaps they’ve been distracted (or indeed held captive) by the peas. It might have helped if I’d staked them properly, or kept them a bit better weeded, but it’s definitely been a case of the survival of the fittest in the garden this year.

broad bean pods

Broad beans: all hat and no cattle

* adjusted for being beetroot and not, say, chocolate.


Indestructible

August 12, 2017

So, a year or so ago, I was gifted with a car boot full of plants to help me hold territory against the encroaching wilderness.

plant haul

Most of them got planted out in the weeks that followed – but I didn’t quite manage to find space for all the crocosmia by the time winter had come along, and I assumed that I had missed the chance to get them into the ground. Crocosmia are pretty tough (I should know, I spent several years trying to beat them back in the old garden) but no plant wants to spend a Scottish winter in an old recycling bin lined with black plastic.

Well, except crocosmia, which proved it is genuinely indestructible by not only surviving, but flourishing and is now flowering again.

crocosmia flowers

I’m a sucker for anything that survives against the odds – especially something that does such a good job of cheering up August, when a lot of the other flowers are looking a bit tatty. So despite slight nervousness about its invasive tendencies, I have added it to a corner of the garden where it can fight it out with the buddleia, another plant that will still be with us come the apocalypse.

crocosmia planted out

As you can see, the garden is still very much a work in progress…

Which may well be some time next week, if the news is anything to go by.


I Say Tomato

August 9, 2017

Despite not having a greenhouse, yet, and the other half being under strict instructions to repel all attempts by desperate gardeners to give us some, at some point this spring two orphan tomato plants appeared in our porch.

tomato plants

When it comes to growing veg, tomatoes are a bit technical for me – especially indoor ones. You seem to have to do everything for them, from feeding and watering to tying them up and pinching them out and generally ministering to their every need. We seem to have one vine type, which has already split its stem after it grew too tall for its support and fell over, and one bush type which is scrambling everywhere and is likely to grow up your leg if you stand too near it while answering the front door. These ones have been variously repotted, propped up, pruned, fed with something that comes out of a plastic bottle and had to be actually purchased (anathema to me – must go and plant a comfrey patch), watered and generally given a level of care and attention I associate with pets, or maybe even children, rather than plants.

tiny tomato fruit

Meanwhile, although both of them look quite decorative in a triffidish sort of way, neither of them has been that keen to actually do the thing that people grow tomato plants for, which is producing tomatoes. The bush one is seems to have one or two fruits per truss and the vine tomato seems to have gone on strike, setting precisely two fruits since I repotted it. Apparently they are self fertile, and all you need to do is gently shake the plants to release the pollen, but it seems that a few bees mightn’t go amiss, or failing that an electric toothbrush, which really does seem a step too far. Otherwise Professor Google suggests that the problem might be that they are too hot, too cold, too humid or too dry, which more or less sums up both gardening-by-internet in general and tomatoes in particular.

Still, despite a distinct shortage of sun this summer at least one of our tomatoes has started to ripen which – given the amount of love and attention I have been lavishing on them – feels almost as if a first-born child was graduating from university.

Did I mention that I don’t actually really like tomatoes?

tomato ripening