That Storm Damage in Full

September 21, 2018

downed tree

While I still maintain that giving storms names is a bad idea on the grounds that it only encourages them, it turns out that sarcastically putting their names in quotes just makes things worse. Certainly, Storm Ali did live up to its amber warning on Wednesday, took out our power halfway through the morning (which wasn’t then restored until Thursday morning) and downing enough trees on the roads around us to make going to my dental appointment in Notso Bigtown a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure as we had to backtrack several times to find a route that didn’t have a large amount of interesting looking firewood blocking the way.

dead olive tree

But what the Weather Gods taketh away, the Weather Gods also giveth. For a while I’ve been looking at our poor dead olive tree and thinking I really should replace with something that was less of a sad reminder of my neglect. It was as we were sitting there watching it being rocked wildly in its pot by the storm (what can I say, when the internet is down you have to make your own entertainment – indeed I ended up forced to complete this year’s tax return, so every cloud and all that), that I noticed something strange at the foot of the trunk:

resprouting olive tree

Yup. It’s aliiiiiive. Really, you can’t keep a good tree down.

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Uncowed

September 14, 2018

So, as I mentioned in the last post, Moo I 5 are back, and when daylight came yesterday, we could see that they had been making themselves at home…

cows in the field

You can’t really see it from the photo, but as well as giving the copper beech a trim, our new neighbours had discovered that if you leaned against the nice scratchy barbed wire hard enough, and streeeetched your neck, you could have some delicious broccoli leaves.

broccoli and cows

Note innocent expression. Do not be fooled

(this is why I’m fairly relaxed about cabbage white incursions on my brassicas. What takes several dozen caterpillars weeks of eating to acheive, is barely a second’s work for a cow).

I’ve also only just noticed the angle of that fence …

leaning fence

The ash tree has so far survived unbrowsed, although for how long we don’t know, but for one of our new birch trees, a 2m tree tube was no match for a hungry Holstein.

nibbled tree top

Possibly time to upgrade the defences … and get used to gardening with a fascinated audience again.


What Lies Beneath

September 5, 2018

So today (once our current hare had deigned to stop sunning itself in the back garden, preventing me from going outside & enjoying the sunshine myself) I thought I’d have a look and see how this year’s potato crop was shaping up

Pretty well, actually

digging up potatoes

Yup, very nicely indeed.

potato harvest

This is the initial* haul from the second of my three potato beds – the first had the first earlies in it (plus a fine crop of mushrooms) and we’re still only half way through those. I may need to upgrade my pototo storage solution so we can keep them through the winter and still have something to eat come Brexit.**

Meanwhile, in tenuously related news, the final chapter seems to have almost closed on our local stretch of the gas pipeline project with the mysterious pipe-and-bag arrangement now replaced with a much more engineering-y manhole cover, and the land returned to the cows.

manhole cover

Given the rate that grass grows around here, it’s already hard to imagine that there’s anything beneath this field but stones and soil, were it not for this warning sign (and incidental Gaelic lesson) and final loose ends which I have no doubt will be dealt with in the fullness of time.

pipeline warning sign

We’ll update you on this story as soon as we have news. I know, you can barely wait.

* Fellow gardeners will know that harvesting potatoes is a Zeno’s Arrow sort of an affair, with each dig yielding a few more, but still leaving enough in the ground to be a complete nuisance for years to come.

** Kidding ***

*** I hope.


Banzai

August 26, 2018

Back in spring, in a spirit of experimentation and what-the-hell, I planted a couple of lemon and a couple of clementine pips to see what happened. It turns out that one of the things that happened was that I got bored of waiting for the lemon pips to germinate and stuck a couple more in the pot, only then reading on the internet that a) lemons take a long time to germinate, and b) you get more than one seedling out of each pip.

citrus seedlings in pots

Fast forward four months, and we have a veritable citrus grove developing in our entrance hall, which we have now dubbed the orangery. This has enabled me to rekindle a long-dormant interest in bonsai which I was quite fascinated by as a child but which I’ve never really followed up after one failed experiment trying to grow an oak seedling in half a grapefruit skin,* which is what the book I had at the time told me was how you were supposed to do it. This being the 70s, with no Internet and, I suspect, very few books on bonsai in the local library, that was where I left it, convinced that bonsai was far too difficult for mere mortals to attempt (and also with something of an aversion to grapefruit skins).

Fast forward 40+ years and it occurred to me that there might be other methods out there on the Internet that were more effective and so I have decided to have a go with one of my seedlings. This time, I’ve got the opposite problem from my 7-year-old self as instead of one single bad idea, the Internet offers reams of contradictory advice on how best to create and look after a bonsai tree, most of which involves buying specialist equipment, all of it – coincidentally enough – available for sale on the site in question. In truth, I suspect that to do something like Bonsai properly you have to have a real understanding of Japanese culture and spend about 40 years studying the art, but I was slightly reassured that the one video by an actual Japanese guy I could find on YouTube had him shovelling gravel and ordinary garden soil about with some abandon and with no specialist equipment whatsoever.**

Where the various sources all agreed, was that I needed to plant my tree seedling in a shallow pot, with lots of gravel in the bottom, to improve the drainage. Having searched the local charity shops in vain for a suitable shallow pot, I was willing to concede defeat and buy one at the local garden centre, but I was buggered if I was going to actually buy any gravel, considering that our garden already has four different kinds of gravel in it, not counting the random stones that pile up whenever you stick a fork in the ground.

sieving gravel

So this afternoon, it being too wet for any other kind of gardening, I spent Gardener’s Question Time patiently sieving out small enough pieces of gravel from one of the gravel piles to put in the base of my pot, and then planted one of my clementine seedlings to see what happens.

I suspect this may lie on the grapefruit end of the sensible bonsai advice spectrum, but if it doesn’t work, it will have cost me nothing expect an hour of my time, and possibly another small shred of my remaining sanity.

bonsai seedling

Be in no doubt that I shall keep you posted as this story develops.

* The idea, according to the book, was that the roots would grow through holes you’d put the grapefruit skin and you could trim them to keep the tree small. This had an appealing logic to it, but the book failed to say that long before your tree seedling had put out any roots at all, your half grapefruit would be a green mouldy mess.

** and also, my 7-year-old self noted, growing the plant inside a plastic colander so you could cut the roots as they grew out of the holes. No grapefruit involved though.


Full Disclosure

August 21, 2018

So, I’ve shown you the other half’s greenhouse, and someone else’s garden altogether, but what of my own veg gardening? Are those raised beds still proving so wonderful?

Well…

veg plot in August

To be fair, August is always a bit random on the gardening front as the accumulation of any spring and summer neglect comes home to roost in spades, but I’ve never grown an additional mystery crop of mushrooms in my potato patch before:

mushrooms in potato patch

Any mycologists out there?

mystery mushroom

I’m more or less resigned to the fact that cabbage whites will come and infest my brassicas. In the past I’ve tried netting them, picking them off, and just ignoring them, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes a lot to completely kill off purple sprouting broccoli. Hopefully, enough plants will survive to put out spears in the spring, after the caterpillars have been killed off in the winter. This year, I’ve cut off the worst of the leaves and stuck them, caterpillars and all, in the compost bin, which probably only means that the caterpillars will have worked up a good appetite by the time they’ve finished crawling back round the house to the veg patch.

caterpillars on broccoli

Interestingly (for a certain value of interesting) the broccoli is quite badly infested with the yellow-and-black caterpillars of the large white, while the cavolo nero right next to it has a much more limited number of the green caterpillars of the small white. Any entomologists care to weigh in?

In other news, my sole squash plant has turned into a sprawling giant which has quite overwhelmed the beans I had optimistically hoped it would share its raised bed with, annexed the fennel bed next door, and is currently conducting a hostile takeover of the not-yet-cultivated mixed bramble and willowherb patch next to the pond. Normally, my money would be on brambles winning any sort of territorial battle, but this time I’m not so sure. The only thing it’s not doing is apparently producing any squashes (but then again, I thought that about the pumpkin last year).

squash plant

On the other hand, despite all this, we’re still getting plentiful potatoes, chard, kale (some with added protein) and giant beetroot. And the peas, which should have been over and done by now, are having a new lease of life and are merrily producing new shoots, flowers and pods. Obviously, what they’re not doing is using any of the supports I helpfully supplied for them, which means they look terrible and picking the peas is a challenge, but August peas of any kind are a bonus so it’s worth the effort.

peas

How does your garden grow?


Back from the Brink

August 15, 2018

Nipping out into the garden between showers this afternoon, I thought I’d tackle the ‘hare’s toothbrush’ which was looking dead back in May and has spent the summer gradually looking deader and deader. Even the hares have stopped nibbling on it so it was time to hoick it out and find something more interesting to put in its place. Or anything, indeed, that wasn’t an eyesore.

dead spiky plant

Hare’s Toothbrush back in May, since when it has only got sadder and deader looking …

Except, when I went to pull away the dead fronds I found it had been quietly reshooting from the base and now looks slightly more attractive and certainly less dead. If, as has been suggested, it is a Cordyline australis, it’s pretty amazing it has survived at all as apparently I should have been protecting it in winter and it needs a mild and sunny location.

hare's toothbrush

Hare’s toothbrush, or more properly, probably Cordyline australis

Of course, as regular blog readers will know, I’m a complete sucker for a plucky survivor in the garden so regardless of whether it grows back into an attractive or striking architectural addition to the garden or just like something that’s been chewed by hares, I’m stuck with it now. At least the hares will be happy

And speaking of back from the brink – if you recall the willow tree which I thought I’d killed last year, but was showing signs of life?

regrown willow

I think we can safely say it’s recovered.

Perhaps there’s hope yet for the olive tree …


Non-exciting Greenhouse News

August 14, 2018

I promised you a greenhouse update, so here goes – we may not be quite in the league of my friend’s parents yet, but in the past two years the top back corner of the garden has gone from looking like this:

chicken shed

To this

pile of shed parts

To this

large pile of soil

To this

greenhouse

 

That’s because the other half is in charge of both weed strimming, and greenhouse erection and care and maintenance. This makes for poor blogging material as he largely just undramatically gets on with doing things properly: tying up the plants and supporting them, cutting out the side shoots the way the books say you should, keeping on top of the weeding. Hell, we’ve got an automatic watering system and everything.

watering system

As a result of my complete lack of involvement in the project, everything is coming along very nicely. In fact, we’re awaiting the ripening of all the tomatoes with some trepidation…

tomatoes ripening

Not to mention the tomatilloes, and several different varieties of chillies …

chillies

If I have one complaint, it’s that the current version suffers from a bug that means no sooner have I managed to dispose of one courgette in a not-too-revolting way, another one (usually bigger than the last) appears in the kitchen. Clearly it’s time to accelerate the ‘learning to love courgettes’ project. We made a start with this Madhur Jaffrey recipe which was actually quite nice (and probably would have been nicer if I’d followed the instructions and put in ground roasted cumin seeds at the end instead of whole coriander seeds instead). Turns out, most things can be tolerated, and even enjoyed, if you smother them in enough cream…