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Perfect for riding down for the paper (despite the fact that by the time I had bought it, it was already wildly out of date.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 …

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Snail’s Pace

October 26, 2018

With an unexpectedly quiet couple of days recently, I’ve been getting on with my latest garden project – digging out the bed next to the veg patch so I can plant rhubarb and also a few more ornamental plants (or at least something more ornamental than the tussocky grass, ladies’ mantle and pink Spanish bluebells that it has been harbouring).

bed being dug

Obviously, when the planets align and I finally have gardening to be done, time in which to do it, and reasonable gardening weather, this can mean only one thing: getting distracted by an interesting side project. In this case, it was a call out for stripey snails on the so-much-more-than-a-cycling forum from which I seem to get most of my gardening information these days. As it happened, the bed I was digging out had a fair few of these stripey snails (technically banded snails) and so I offered to photograph the ones I found so that they could be assessed for stripeyness and colour, as apparently they are an interesting example of genetic variability and evolution in action. Normally, any snails I found during the course of gardening get flying lessons into the neighbouring field, but instead I have been gathering them up, photographing them (they are indeed quite variable and rather beautifully so) and then letting them wander off back into the undergrowth (as it seemed a bit off to then hurl them over the fence), a decision I may later come to regret.

gathered snails

Unfortunately for the original poster, it turns out that a good way to reduce the snail population in your garden is to offer to collect them in the interests of science, as I only managed to find 10 in total, half the number needed for a proper sample. However, I have learned something about snail genetics and have a newfound appreciation for Cepaea nemoralis – and I suspect the local thrushes also had a profitable afternoon.

piles of bluebell bulbs

Side trips into snail portraiture aside, I did also manage to make some progress on the main project, if by ‘progress’ you mean ‘digging out a metric tonne of bluebell bulbs’. I don’t kid myself I’ve done anything but thin out (or possibly reinvigorate) the actual population, but we’ll have to wait until spring to find out. The next step will be adding compost and manure, covering the bed over for winter, and then I get the fun of filling it with plants come spring. Ideally, snail resistant ones …


Harvest Festival

October 20, 2018

The other half has been busy harvesting in the greenhouse …

jalapeno chillies

He’s also been busy with a needle and thread, making these jalapenos into a ristra. Handily, we only just used the last of our last dried jalapenos a few weeks ago. Each snipped-off chilli left a stem behind, like a tally of spicy meals. I was quite sad to see it go so we’re giving this one a little helping hand by hanging it next to the woodburner, in the absence of the Rayburn.

chilli ristra

Anyway, what with the drying walnuts (how long do walnuts take to dry, anyone?), our hearth now looks as if we’re ready for Santa, assuming Santa is up for a little Mexican cuisine alongside the more traditional offerings.

woodburner with drying chillies

The jalapenos were actually mostly not that hot, although every so often you’d get a zinger. I’d got into the habit of chewing on a seed whenever I chopped one up, to gauge whether or not to add the seeds to whatever I was cooking. But the Fresno chillies are another matter as I discovered when I tried the same trick and almost had to dunk my head in the water butt. There’s lots of those too …

Fresno chillies

Fresno chillies. Do not muddle up with jalapenos

And, after a slow start, the tomatillos are going strong. Not so strong as the first year we grew them, when I ended up leaving bags of them on people’s doorsteps, but strong enough. They’re pretty tasty and tangy but not the most versatile of ingredients – it’s no coincidence that when you start to google tomatillo recipes, the fourth suggestion is ‘tomatillo recipes not salsa’ (the first hit is a recipe for salsa…)

tomatillos in fridge drawer

Time to make some salsa verde, then.


Going Nuts

October 9, 2018

I’ve been a bit rubbish at foraging this year – not only did I completely miss the moment for gathering gooseberries from the travelling gooseberry bush, but I’ve barely had any wild raspberries – or even any blackberries. The neighbour has given us permission to pick the plums in the field below our house by ruined cottage, but after going down too early and finding only unripe ones, that too had slipped my mind, despite grand plans for jam and all sorts.

But a chance encounter with a friend on the cycle path this morning tipped me off about a slightly more exotic foraging option. Her neighbour’s walnut tree is not only generous with its bounty in all the surrounding gardens, including hers, it’s also spreading the love onto the road as well. A sneaky detour was in order.

The tree was easily spotted by the mess of walnut hulls on the pavement, and the sound of walnuts bouncing into the road. I’m not 100% sure of the legality of picking walnuts off the pavement by someone’s house, but as they were mostly just getting run over, I decided I wasn’t robbing anyone but perhaps the jackdaws, so a pocketful was gathered and taken home.

fallen walnuts

Of course, like most things you get for free, it’s not quite as simple as picking them up and enjoying a delicious walnut treat. For a start, I may have been too late – you’re supposed to pick them when they’re still in their green hulls, rather than when the nuts are raining off the tree so they might be a bit tainted. And then they need to be dried, which either means putting them in an oven for an unspecified amount of time (‘until they’re dry’ – thanks, RHS website) or hanging them up somewhere fairly warm, squirrel-free and with good air circulation to dry naturally. This would have been a marvellous job for the Rayburn* but in its absence, the woodburner and an old clementine bag have been pressed into use, giving our hearth an unseasonably festive air.

drying walnuts

Hopefully that will work because we may end up with plenty more (in the fullness of time). because, as an added bonus, the jackdaws inadvertently plant walnut trees all round my friend’s garden in their attempts to open the nuts by bouncing them off her patio. Did we want a tree? Yes indeed we did. As soon as it has dropped its leaves and we have worked out how to get a young but tallish tree into a smallish hatchback it will be ours, as long as we promise to look after it better than the olive tree

Oh, and flushed with success from my walnut scrumping, I nipped down to the old ruin to see if any plums might still be waiting for me…

plum harvest

That plum harvest in full

I think I won’t be making jam this year.

* The other night I met the most recent inhabitant of our old house who – shockingly – never bothered to get the Rayburn lit. Admittedly, it does use so much fuel I did think we had a leak in our oil tank at first, but this seems to be missing the point entirely of living in that house.


Dirty Plot Letter

October 5, 2018

A knock on the front door this morning alerted me to a visit from the garden inspector – actually my pal from Old Nearest Village who likes to drop by when he’s passing to see how the garden is getting on. I knew it was him because when I went to the door, there was nobody there – he was already in the back garden checking on the raised beds.

Fortunately, Wednesday’s work had not gone to waste and I think I passed, just, with the help of the other half’s professional greenhouse set up. Points were deducted for my leeks being planted too close together again (given they’re already enormous, we agreed that was just a style point, and I escaped serious censure), and the undue fanciness of my veg selection (cavolo nero and rainbow chard are very much not categories in the village show) but were gained by the colour of my purple sprouting broccoli, and the well-rotted horse manure on the old pea bed. Phew. We both agreed that fretting about cabbage white caterpillars was a waste of time and that it had been a good year for potatoes and then, having exchanged a bit of village gossip, he went on his way. No doubt he’ll be popping in again when I least expect it, just to keep me on my toes …

I joke (well, sort of) but there’s actually nothing like having fellow gardeners come around to have a nosey and exchange ideas, and the opportunity have a nosey back. I didn’t get to any proper open gardens this summer (and besides, they’re always a bit too primped and unobtainable to be really informative), but I feel some sort of peer-to-peer garden noseying exchange system should be worked out for those of us unlucky enough not to have an allotment. Or a regular irregular inspection regime…


Garden Like Crazy

October 3, 2018

It’s a sad truth that I, the supposed gardener in the family, am currently spending less time out actually gardening than the other half at the moment (who has taken Bob Flowerdew’s dictum that ‘nobody ever wishes they could spend less time in the greenhouse’ fully to heart). Today, with a gap in the work schedule, a mild and better-than-forecast day, and a field full of cows to entertain, I decided to do a bit of catching up with myself.

vegetable plot in October

Veg plot. Note giant broccoli despite the joint efforts of Moo I 5 and the cabbage whites

October is often a putting-to-bed month – or, in my case, a finding of lost vegetables month. As well as the requisite handful of potatoes from the multiply dug-over potato beds, I also uncovered some impressive-looking spring onions which had battled their way through between bolting fennel and galloping squash plants.

large spring onions

The squash has also managed to produce two squashes, which look like they’ll survive until the frost (it has produced numerous others that have just gone yellow and dropped off). I’m not sure the ratio of sprawled-over veg beds to return is quite in the squash’s favour here.

two squash ripening

Having dug out the peas, it’s interesting (to me, anyway) to see how far a bed that was heaped when it was first filled has settled down over the summer. It has since been topped up with compost from the maturest dalek, and a barrow load of horse manure.

raised bed emptied

It’s fair to say from today’s evidence that our composting strategy is still a work in progress. I ended up having to empty out and turn the contents of all three daleks because combining binge gardening with small compost bins means you quickly fill up your working dalek. Obviously the answer to that is to resolve to garden more regularly and keep on top of things. Naturally, our response is to start pricing up compost tumblers, a shredder, and some more daleks.

And the cows? They ungratefully spent the day in the other half of the field, mooing at the tractor that was cutting the hedges. Honestly, so fickle.


Degrees of Separation

October 1, 2018

So, while I was in Aberdeen this weekend, whipping up dissent and fomenting rebellion among the cycling classes, the farmer has apparently been busy and our neighbours are back.

new fence

Rather than replace the rotten fence posts on the existing fence we now have a new extra bit of fence that keeps the coos from eating the broccoli (and licking the greenhouse) but has allowed them to return to their field.

After spending a bit of time investigating whether the new fence is edible (nope), movable by head rubbing (not really) or lickable-to-death (jury still out), Moo I 5 seem to be confining their dissent to mooing at it occasionally and looking at me resentfully as I wander in my garden paradise filled with delicious things-that-aren’t-grass, from which they have been banished. Hopefully things will stay that way.

cows and fence

In other news, my bike tried to kill me yesterday, but that tale will have to wait for another day