January 5, 2023

So I gave the other half a tasty gift this Christmas:

According to the instructions, what we were supposed to be getting was a sawdust like substance which needed to be soaked in a bucket of water, misted daily and generally carefully tended until the shiitake mushrooms appeared. I think on the whole, this would have been a bit less alarming than opening the box and being confronted with something that looked quite so, well, fungal – the last time we had mushrooms that looked like that in our kitchen, they were growing out of the ceiling joists and it cost a fair bit to get rid of them.

However, the other half is made of stern stuff and resisted the temptation to just shoot the lot into the compost heap. After ten days of cultivation they began to look a bit more like food and less like wet rot and were duly harvested.

shiitake growing in a mushroom growing kit

At this point, I should remind readers that I don’t really like mushrooms, and it seems I last ate any in (checks notes) 2012, when I got a sticker for being brave about it. There was no sticker this time but I did overcome my extreme dubiousness about the whole thing and have successfully stir fried our first harvest. This was, we agreed, pretty tasty although the recipe had enough going on that the mushrooms didn’t exactly stand out. There’s still half the harvest left so perhaps I’ll have to be even braver and try something more mushroomy.

Mushrooms being harvested

Meanwhile the kit has gone to the garage for a fortnight’s rest, and then the soaking and misting process will resume. Supposedly we can get half a dozen crops out of it, something I’m not sure whether I’m looking forward to or dreading … but just in case, suggestions for tasty shiitake recipes in the comments would be appreciated.

Thaw Point

December 20, 2022

As predicted, the sparkly freeze of recent weeks has given way to something milder, greyer – and windier.

Empty compost dalek rolled against a fence

It turns out hungry daleks go for a wander (I had unwisely emptied one without redistributing the contents of the other two as ballast). Fortunately, it also turns out that fences prove as formidable an obstacle to wandering daleks as stairs do so the errant exterminator was easily retrieved and put to work digesting the contents of the compost tumbler. I get the feeling that gardening is no longer my primary hobby; rather it’s become a by product of my composting habit.

four small harvested leeks

When it comes to actual gardening – or at least, harvesting some leeks – it’s a sign of how frozen things have been that two whole days of temperatures reaching double figures, I could only get the fork easily into the first two inches of the raised bed, before hitting what felt like concrete. It took some work to get the tines through the layer of frozen earth and then some careful prying to liberate enough leeks for tonight’s supper without damaging them. They say the recent cold snap hasn’t been anything particularly out of the ordinary, but I don’t know when we last had a layer of permafrost (oh, OK, tempafrost) in December. But at least the ‘glacier’ that guards our road is beginning to retreat somewhat. This has been fun to negotiate for the past week – even If I had put my ice tyres on, I wouldn’t fancy it on the bike, and even walking past it has been a bit of an adventure.

Stretch of ice along a country road

And how’s your winter weather shaping up?

Muck Raking

December 9, 2022

Now that we’re supposed to leave our gardens untidy over winter for the wildlife, there’s not that much to be doing outside on a day in December – especially one as bone chillingly cold as it’s been lately. But the sun was shining and I had a bit of time to spare – and there is one task best done when it’s as cold as possible, which is shifting manure.

Barrow full of pig manure next to an almost empty compost bay

Our smallholding neighbours up the hill have pigs and having been offered some of their output (the muck, that is – we’ve also had their pork and it is delicious), I decided now was the time to take advantage and spent an hour and a half attempting to fill the spare compost bay with pig poo (I realise on writing this that ‘filling a bay with crap’ sounds more like something privatised water companies do these days than gardeners, but hey ho). An hour and a half – and a full body workout later – and I’d managed six(ish) barrowloads. I’d barely made a dent in the pile, or filled a fifth of the space – but I was done in. Fortunately we have many more such days still in the forecast to ferry a bit more down.

slightly more filled bay with manure

Although, there probably is no need to wait for the cold weather – this is wonderfully mature muck, and didn’t smell at all. And if the beetroot I got from the neighbour is anything to go by, it’s powerful stuff.

very large beetroot with secateurs for scale

Next step will be getting it up to the veg beds, greenhouse and fruit cage … but I think that will wait until my arms and shoulders have recovered from today’s exertions. Monster beetroot aside, I do wonder how anyone manages to grow enough vegetables to replace the calories expended in raising them…

Counting one’s Carrots

November 22, 2022

With Twitter apparently on the way out (or at least increasingly full of people announcing they’re moving over to Mastodon) I have been making vague plans to fill the gap by going old school – blogging more, at least a bit more than the current once a week, and spending more time commenting directly on other people’s blogs, as we used to do back in the old days of 10 years ago. As you can see from my posting history (and, indeed, my Twitter timeline), this has gone exactly as well as most of my other vague plans – mainly due to a massive and unreasonable work crunch. Still it remains on the agenda, but we’ll see.

The downside of less frequent blogging is that I keep finding I’ve not blogged about something I meant to refer to, merely frittered the material away on Twitter. So I never mentioned on here the fact that I’d had to dig up all my beetroot early in October after the mice discovered had discovered them

We’ve now eaten our way through the resulting beetroot stockpile, but it somehow never occurred to me that the mice, having been robbed of one highly-coloured root vegetable feast, would turn their attention to my carrots instead.

Mouse chewed and muddy carrots

A shame because some of them were beginning to look pretty impressive. Send carrot recipes please, bearing in mind that I don’t actually really like carrots …

I shall try to do better on the blogging front. Work and life are shaping up to be busy but that’s no excuse. Even if it’s just a matter of celebrating the occasional escape and respite in the November weather.

Sunlight catching the water on the river

And how has your week been?

I Didn’t Need Another Hobby …

September 28, 2022

And yet it seems I have one, or a project on my hands at least: restoring the gravel drive.

Partially cleared weed grown gravel drive

The orthodox way to sort out a weed-grown gravel drive is to spray the lot with herbicides and then dump a bag of fresh gravel on the top but I was never going to do the first step, and the second is increasingly recognised as being unsustainable. So I’ve gone for the alternative, which is to painstakingly dig out the weeds, pull out the shreds of landscape fabric which was doing nothing to keep them down, and rake out the gravel that’s become embedded into the soil underneath over the years, inch by gradual inch.

Like unravelling wool, this is actually more enjoyable than it sounds. Even though I know that the drive will be weedridden again as soon as – maybe even before – I get the whole thing clear, there is a meditative enjoyment to be had in doing a task that is just difficult enough to be absorbing, while it’s still possible to make visible progress in an afternoon. Add in a couple of podcasts or a decent few hour’s worth of radio programmes (adjusted for whether a monarch has recently died or not) and you will also learn something. Plus it’s time spent outdoors and, as autumn and winter looms, that feels increasingly precious.

And besides, it certainly beats cycle campaigning, especially at the local level, which has the same repetitive nature but largely without the visible sense of progress. After 11 years at the helm of the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign we thought that, if nothing else, we’d at least finally cracked the problem of the Rood Fair blocking our main cycle path, the one that joins all the other cycle paths together and which is summarily closed for a week every year since time immemorial. Last year, we actually managed to get a meeting with the fair operator and the council together and amazingly came up with an agreed solution to the issue that was too late for that fair but would definitely, definitely be in place this year.

Definitely …

There’s little more dispiriting than starting your week by setting aside all the positive things you were hoping to do and instead spending the morning lobbying the coonsil and anyone else you can get to listen, simply to get them to implement the thing that they have already agreed they would do. Especially after you’ve just spent a week visiting three cities whose authorities have actually been getting stuff done. So, after having most of yesterday morning hijacked by the ultimate in dispiriting activities, and with no chance of doing anything productive with the time left, I did the sensible thing and headed out to the garden to reclaim another few centimetres of gravel for civilisation.

Pointless as it may have been, it felt way more productive …

(I should add, in fairness to the coonsil, that after a combination of our lobbying, an official complaint, and some journalistic enquiries, a way has been found to reopen the cycle route. So a victory of sorts but oh dear sweet baby Jesus, why does it have to be this hard?)

Normal Weather Service Resumes …

August 16, 2022
Japanese anemones against a grey sky

As I pulled on my waterproof trousers, wellies, rain jacket, gloves and cap yesterday morning – after a week in which the only sartorial decision I needed to make was which POP t-shirt to wear – I did send up faint curses on the heads of everyone who’s been loudly longing for rain over the past week. Glasgow cyclists, bless their little Stockholm-syndromed heads, may welcome summer for its slightly warmer rain, but I love a heatwave and the drier and sunnier the better. However much my garden may be suffering, I’ll never pray for rain – after all, round here, the Weather Gods will generally provide it, in great quantities, entirely unprompted.

All that said, one inhabitant of the garden is probably welcoming the resumption of wet weather. Five years ago we planted six trees (three silver birches and three paper birches) to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Of the paper birches, one didn’t take at all, one seemed to disappear but finally stuck its head over the top of the tree tube after about 4 years) and one was apparently flourishing like the green bay tree until it decided to fall over a couple of days ago.

It turns out that it had been flourishing so much its trunk had thickened enough to grow into the zip tie that was holding the tree tube onto the stake. That had weakened it to the point where it just snapped. We’d kept the tubes on so long to protect them all against the attentions of Moo I 5, but we hadn’t been diligent at checking for other perils, and for that I can only say I’m very sorry.

Propped up birch tree

Anyway, after consulting Twitter, the tree has been duly propped up, lopped by about half, and held in place with (what else) a bicycle inner tube. The guards have come off most of the other trees (except the late developer, which is just too close to the fence and too temptingly in reach of any coos). So far, the patient appears to be fine so fingers crossed it will remain so, and strengthen to the point where it can stand up on its own. And yes, perhaps a little rain at this point wouldn’t go amiss … although I’m not, repeat not, asking for it.

OK, So Maybe TWO More Bins will Fix it

August 11, 2022

When it comes to composting, I’ve found, there are a number of camps: those who make a rough bin out of pallets, those who swear by the compost daleks, and those who prefer the high-tech compost tumbler approach. And then there’s our garden, in which we are now resorting to all three in a bid to somehow be able to compost plant material faster than the garden can produce it.*

In the past couple of months, the tumbler has not been keeping up with the mowing and the daleks have not been keeping up with the weeding, after a bit too much neglect in spring meant the weeds have been even more rampant than usual (perhaps its compost Tardises we need). The resulting emergency piles of vegetation left lying around the garden were beginning to take on an air of permanence so the other half has cracked and repurposed some pallets and doors in time-honoured fashion to add more capacity to compost corner:

Composting space in the garden with compost bins, tumbler and two new heaps made with pallets and old doors

Any illusion we might have had that this might be a permanent solution was dispelled by a morning’s work (although to be fair that was mostly moving the giant haystack of weeded material off the back patio into its new home). Hopefully it will bed down a bit before the next bout of weeding so we don’t have to start the second bay prematurely. But I’m ruling nothing out.

Composting bays with one already filled.

* Visiting last month, my cousin estimated that if we turned over two-thirds of the garden to compost management, the resulting loss of weed-growing capacity would mean we might just about break even.

New Hare Just Dropped

June 30, 2022
Path and borders at Broughton House

Yesterday I was speaking at an event at Broughton House. My photos don’t really do it justice but it has a garden that is, for me, pretty much the platonic ideal – not huge, but a glorious haven with wonderful borders, a productive but decorative veg plot, benches thoughtfully placed in a variety of sheltered spots and an optimistically large number of sundials when you consider the climate we have around here. It even had a resident cat who graciously allowed herself to be stroked and then plodded around in front of us as if giving us the tour.

Lawn, sundial and benches at Broughton House

My own garden is … somewhat less manicured, although it is about a thousand percent more manicured than it was at the start of the month. In fact, my clearing efforts have overwhelmed the capacity of the compost daleks so I have had to resort to just piling up the resulting weeds, to the point where there’s already a dalek’s worth waiting to go in.

Large pile of weeds

Part of the point of my latest frantic binge gardening efforts have been to get it into a state where two octogenarians can safely reach the greenhouse to water it, for we are going away next week to the US for almost three weeks, leaving the Pepperpots in charge of the tomatoes (and keeping up with the salad). As our garden is already one big trip hazard (whoever laid it out was very fond of shallow steps with treads made out of old wooden sleepers, aka the slipperiest substance known to man), I was keen not to add to the dangers. It’s not quite National Trust standard, but you can at least now see where the paths are supposed to be and watch your footing.

slightly overgrown path by fruit cage

Anyway, as the title of this blog post suggests, our garden does still fulfil its primary function of being wee hare habitat; something that would be less likely if it was at the more manicured end of the spectrum (or, indeed, had a resident cat). The latest leveret is a lot less chilled than its predecessor – it hasn’t come close enough to be usefully photographed, for example. But it has got wonderfully striking extra-dark tips to its ears which swivel constantly as it nibbles the clover on the drive before bolting the minute we step outside. It’s also got a worrying habit of hiding under the car when it rains, something to bear in mind when we need to drive anywhere.

Every year I try and work out how to combine an intermittently busy life with a steady application of gardening effort, and every year I revert to a cycle of binge and neglect. I’ll never have a garden quite like the one at Broughton House, but one day I hope to have one that approaches its level of charm, while still providing a steady supply of young hares to enchant us. That’s surely not too much to ask, is it?

Flee, All is Discovered

May 28, 2022

As I mentioned on Twitter, there’s a downside to wildlife friendly gardening – the wildlife does tend to do its own thing being, you know, wild …

These were the sweet peas that I had been nurturing since March, even suspending them out of harm’s way of the mice (and then subsequently having to rescue them after the inevitable happened and the string broke on one set of modules).

Half completed vegetable plot fence

I’ve been way too busy to get much done in the garden in recent weeks (or maybe months), largely using the fact that we still have to finish erecting our rabbit defences around the vegetable patch as an excuse not to plant out too much stuff. But in the few half hours I had here and there in the last couple of weeks, I did manage to build some nice wigwams for my sweet peas and plant out some of the plants that had amazingly survived plummeting to the greenhouse floor and spending 24 hours upside down before I actually went up to check. It’s possible they may still survive being nibbled to the ground by either the rabbit or the hare, so I’ve put bottle cloches over them for now, to see if they might resprout.

I’m not that hopeful, however, and having built the damn wigwams I feel I’ve too much invested now in growing sweet peas to leave it chance. Fortunately it was the village plant sale today and I persuaded my parents this would be a nice outing for them and that we should probably get there early to have the best choice of plants, by which I obviously meant sweet peas.

Despite turning up pretty much at the stated starting time (a basic rookie error: all the gardeners get there early to drop off their own plants and then snap up the best of what’s there) I was informed that the only sweet peas had already gone. And then, lurking at the back I spotted these.

tray of sweet pea seedlings

I reckon there’s about a 50:50 chance that these are sweet peas and not garden peas, as the plant stall holder was a little vague on the specifics. Either way, I’ve built those wigwams and they’re going in, and if they turn out to be garden peas, well that’s not the worst gardening mistake I’ve ever made.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen neither hide nor hare, as it were, of the likely culprit since the loss was discovered.*

Hare hiding in the weeds next to a hare sculpture

A guilty conscience? I’ll let you decide.

* Actually, if it was the hare, it’s already forgiven, as it’s a long established principle that the hares in this garden can eat whatever they like. Indeed, if the other half could find a hare-recognition system that would let hares into the veg patch and keep rabbits out once our fence is completed he’d be onto it right away.

Top Tip for Gardeners …

May 22, 2022

… whose garden has started to definitively cross the line from ‘relaxed and informal planting’

Garden in bloom

to ‘shame, you can see how this might have been a nice garden once’.

Overgrown and weedy patio

When visitors are due, make sure you invest in a young hare that seems happy to remain visible from various vantage points inside the house…

Hare scratching its nose seen through a doorway

and seems more than relaxed in its surroundings.

Hare stretched out on a gravel path

Suddenly your badly weeded patio and unkempt lawn become ‘hare habitat’ and everything else gets overlooked.

I wonder if hares will be big at Chelsea this year? If not, the garden designers are definitely missing a trick.