Crowning Glory Part Two

March 17, 2019

With my rhubarb having (so far) survived the winter:…

Rhubarb shoots

NB, this was one of the crowns that got carefully and lovingly planted in a prime location. The one that somehow got unearthed and left for dead at the side of the bed is also sprouting. Yup, they’re basically unkillable.

…It’s time to chance my arm with asparagus in one of the raised beds. Actually, it probably isn’t precisely the right time as we’ve got a bit of groundfrost forecast overnight, but the crowns I had ordered a few weeks ago arrived yesterday and tomorrow we head off to Norn Iron for a bit of R&R so it was plant them now or leave them in the box for over a week.

Asparagus crowns

Unlike rhubarb, asparagus crowns clearly favour a lot of root – if I saw this lot on something growing in the garden, I’d assume it was a pernicious weed, so I’m hopeful that it will prove tougher than its reputation might suggest.

The planting instructions were very detailed and specific. I declined to get a ruler out to determine whether my plants and rows were the prescribed 30cm apart but did go to the effort of raising a little ridge within the planting trench, so here’s hoping.

asparagus crowns planted

The instructions also suggested asparagus needs ‘protection from high winds’ which was good for a hollow laugh in this the most exposed of gardens, especially after yesterday’s adventure. For now I have erected some sticks around them, more more because I had a lot of sticks to hand than because they’re known for being particularly effective windbreaks. I have had some thoughts about how to reinforce them in some way that will let the sun in but keep the wind out but it hasn’t got any further than perhaps using some string.

sticks around the asparagus bed

Now all we have to do is wait, and resist the temptation to harvest any spears for two years. Hopefully the hares will be similarly abstemious.

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Habitat Management

March 6, 2019

I don’t know why I ever think this, but as I nipped out into the garden this afternoon to take advantage of a brief respite between downpours, I thought there wouldn’t be too much to do. Naturally, a couple of hours later, once the rain closed in again, all I had done was remind myself what a mammoth amount of work it’s going to take to get to grips with it all.

bed in garden

Normally I choose my camera angles carefully to highlight the good bits of the garden. This is more the reality

Today’s task was to clear up the dead vegetation that has been lying around being wildlife habitat over the winter. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that one clump of bracken was still being wildlife habitat in the form of a young hare whose parents hadn’t read the information that says their breeding season has only just begun.

I think I’d have things somewhat more under control if I didn’t have to garden around whichever bit of the garden was currently favoured as a hare resting place, but then our garden wouldn’t have hares in it, and that would be wrong. Much as I’d like a beautiful and productive garden crammed full of interesting plants, its key role in our lives is to look like the sort of a garden a responsible hare parent can leave her offspring in. So I can’t simply lay waste to all the undergrowth and patches of brambles and nettles – I’ve got to wait until I’ve got something to replace each bit with that’s a bit more garden like but also functions as suitable hare habitat.

Garden and wilderness

(This doesn’t explain the pallets, obviously, but we have plans for them and they will be put to use in the fullness of time)

Greenhouse and pallets

So I keep chipping away at the edges, clearing out bits as I have plants for them, and averting my eyes from the rest. Some of these plants even, miraculously, survive, if they are not too delicious to the hares.

lupins

I think this is the first lupin ever to last longer than a month in my care, let alone over winter…

Meanwhile, we have exciting composting news (and also another exciting delivery* lurking in the garage which I can’t blog about for non-fate-tempting reasons) but that will have to wait for another

*Not a bike, before you get too excited


Fedgeing My Bets

February 23, 2019

Among the many reasons why I’d like spring not to career onwards too quickly (Brexit, my own imminent half century, POP preparations or the lack thereof) one was that I am as usual somewhat behind in my gardening. In particular, I’ve been conscious that when you’re planning to plant a fedge, the willow is best cut ‘just before it buds out’ which, for those not possessing a time machine, tends to mean ‘about a week ago would have been perfect’.

ready to plant

Stakes in, ground prepared, it almost looks as if I know what I’m doing here.

Still, working on the assumption that willow is well-nigh impossible to kill, and with the mild spell looking to continue for a while, I decided to crack on this weekend. I had, unusually actually finished the ground preparation a week or so ago, and in the course of re-pollarding a willow at the top of the garden, we had produced some suitable stakes as well as loads of withies of about one or two year’s growth – perfect (according to a random page I found on the internet) for striking cuttings.

first willow in

First sticks in. There’s something liberating in a task where you’re actually aiming NOT to get everything in straight

This will no doubt come back to bite me in some way, but the whole thing actually went unprecedentedly smoothly, which is giving me faint premonitions of disaster.

criss crossed willow

Weaving in the sticks the other way

On the other hand, the whole enterprise has cost me precisely nothing apart from our time – from the stakes to the willow, to the old shirt turned into ties, it was all sourced from stuff we had lying around.

fedge finished

All tied up and finished in record time. Something must be wrong here…

So, whether none of it sprouts, all of it sprouts and we end up living in a willow thicket, or Moo-I-5 lean over the fence in a few months time and scoff the lot in fifteen minutes – I’ll still feel somewhat ahead of the game.

And that’s got to be worth something in these uncertain times.


In the Midst of Life …

January 16, 2019
snowdrops

Snowdrops come up in the darkest days

It’s been a sad few days for us as a family, with my brother-in-law taken from us far too young by galloping cancer. He was a lovely man and a committed environmentalist, dedicating his life to keeping his small organic farm in France going and preserving the wildlife and habitat it harboured.

It’s times like these, I find gardening can be the best solace. My continuing dodgy shoulder is preventing me from doing what I should be doing (heaving bags of horse manure onto my raised beds) but I did manage to cut the ground (literally) on another project that seemed a fitting way to mark Adrian’s passing.

fedge preparation

Sadly our own farming neighbour doesn’t share his commitment to wildlife and agriculture and the field on two sides of our garden is a classic green desert – sprayed and cut and slurried to the max. Much as we enjoy our friendly coo neighbours for the two months they are with us, it has been eye opening just how intensive a dairy farm needs to be, having only had beef cows for neighbours up to now. The garden fence keeps the cows out but that’s all it does – unlike a hedgerow it doesn’t shelter us from the wind (or whatever is drifting in on that wind from the field) and nor does it shelter any wildlife. But establishing a hedge in the face of Moo I 5 will be an uphill task, if the fate of the ash tree is anything to go by.

willow fedge

We spotted this impressive woven willow hedge at Paxton House last weekend

Enter, hopefully, the fedge – a fence woven out of willow that will take root and sprout into a hedge. We have plenty of willow growing in the garden (some of it where it shouldn’t) and it seems that the main drawback to a willow fedge is all the pruning it requires. The hope is that our neighbours will see to the pruning while the willow will be vigorous enough to survive their attentions or at least numerous enough that some of it will survive. We’ll get a bit of a screen from the worst of the slurry drift, and the birds and the hares and other creatures will have somewhere to hide, while the cows will have something to chew on that isn’t grass, which seems to be their aim in life.

 

So this afternoon, I started peeling back the turf along the bottom fence, and filling the gap with some of the pile of woodchips from when the willow was pollarded. And – because it appears that there’s an iron law that if you reduce any of the various piles of stuff in our garden you have to replace that with another one of a similar size – creating another pile of the resulting turf.* Theoretically, once covered over, this will turn into beautiful crumbly loam in a year or so. At least, that’s what happens in normal gardens. Given that all ours wants to do is grow grass, I expect I’m just creating a three dimensional lawn, but I live in hope.

turf pile

An hour or two’s work was enough to prepare a decent length of ground, and the next step will be to plant the willow and weave it into shape once spring looks a bit closer at hand. And if it goes even a small way towards making our garden a better sanctuary for wildlife, then it will be a fitting tribute to my brother-in-law’s too-short life.

* Please can some well-known garden designer create a show garden at Chelsea this year that consists of random piles of stones, landscape fabric, bricks, old railway sleepers and lawn clippings?


Emerging …

January 4, 2019

rhubarb shoots

It’s probably way too early to get excited about this – what with the bulk of the winter still to go – but it turns out that if you want to murder rhubarb, dismembering it with a mattock and burying it alive in horseshit is not particularly effective.

rhubarb shoots

We won’t be able to harvest it until next year, but as I suspect 2019 will be one of those ‘take your good news where you can find it’ years (see also, 2016, 2017, 2018) I’m posting this now before it has a chance to go pearshaped.

rhubarb shoots

Asparagus next …


Stockpiling

December 12, 2018

Waking to news of developing political chaos, somehow today seemed like a good day to sort out the stored potatoes (some of which have already developed ambitions to start growing), and do a bit of tidying up of the rainbow chard bed.

rainbow chard bed

I have to say, the chard has been a bit of a revelation this year – while it isn’t exactly my favourite vegetable, it’s proved more versatile than I thought and more to the point, it’s just gone on and on and on, providing at least one meal a week and proving a useful source of extra greens (and yellows and pinks and reds and oranges) for throwing into stir fries and other dishes.

chard in basket

Clearing out some of the bolted plants and the dead leaves I discovered that the mice have apparently discovered it too, so some of the roots at the base have been nibbled away, so it’s possible its days are numbered. Fortunately the kale has recovered from the caterpillar onslaught and is ready to take over the green leafy vegetable heavy lifting.

kale cavolo nero

Realistically, of course, none of this will help come March 29th, if we do end up with a chaotic Brexit. As any gardener could have told the government, it’s the worst possible time of year to be inadvertently blockading your own country of imports of perishable food. Our potatoes will have long started sprouting and any remaining leeks, chard and beetroot bolted, although we may well still have some kale if the winter isn’t too harsh and the hares too hungry. No, the real purpose was to stockpile a little sanity and perspective, something that I suspect will be in even shorter supply than fresh vegetables in the coming months. Sometimes you just need to let the politicians get on with it, and go outside and get your hands dirty with a bit of honest gardening toil.

That, presumably, will still be an option on March 30th next year. Whatever the politicians decide.


Crowning Glory

November 16, 2018

It’s been a funny old day, and not just the way the government appears to be disintegrating before our eyes. After alternating days of apocalyptic rain and bright sunshine we had a strangely mild, still, murky sort of a day, with rather tasty pearly light breaking through the clouds.

November light

Perfect for riding down for the paper (despite the fact that by the time I had bought it, it was already wildly out of date. A week is no longer a long time in politics, frankly; six hours is) although it was positively sweaty riding back.

I have loads of stuff that should be keeping me chained to the laptop, but this mild spell was also too good an opportunity to miss in the garden so I took a short break to get on with the next phase of the veg plot – the rhubarb bed. I’d already dug out the bed and sourced some rhubarb via the very splendid New Nearest Village freecycle list but I wasn’t entirely sure I’d planted them right. The rhubarb had outstayed its welcome in a garden up the road and had been dug out with a mattock. It didn’t look particularly convincing (are rhubarb crowns supposed to have roots attached?) and I’d shoved it in the new bed in a bit of a hurry. After a bit of googling (always good to check how to plant something AFTER you’ve planted it …) I decided to hoick it out and plant it a little deeper before the hard frosts came. This may or may not be a good idea as Google also suggests rhubarb hates to be disturbed, but then again, it probably hates being dug up and dismembered with a mattock – well don’t we all – and that doesn’t seem to stop it.

Either way, it’s showing signs of life already. Hopefully not to be cruelly cut down by the first frosts.

rhubarb shoots

Next step will be the asparagus bed, which I’m expecting will require a little more care and attention, if only because I’ll probably have to actually pay for asparagus crowns, unlike the rhubarb. Unfortunately, the googling I’ve done so far suggests we may simply end up expensively feeding the hares. I may have to reinstate my hare defences …