Fill your Boots

April 22, 2018

Yesterday was the New Nearest Village church plant sale and – it being a rather glorious sunny one – I actually managed to lure the other half to join me on a cycle ride up there for my annual ‘how many plants can you fit in a Brompton basket‘ adventure.

After a very pleasant interlude sitting in the sun in the church hall car park eating barbecued sausage sandwiches and as many tray bakes as we could decently pile onto a plate, and talking cycling in Rwanda (as hilly as it looks, apparently), we pootled (me; it’s difficult to get up much speed when you’re conscious of your new plants’ leaves all blowing in the wind) and raced (the other half) back down again. The plants (random lupins of unknown provenance and a named primula species which I’ve managed to forget everything about apart from the fact that it apparently likes boggy conditions) are now awaiting such time as I can clear a space to plant them and set up slug defences, as the last lot of lupins I planted didn’t last a week. I should probably have thought of that before I bought them but hey ho, if I keep throwing lupins at the problem surely some of them will get through…

plant sale haul

In other plant cruelty news, I was wondering why our windowsill basil had started looking peaky even (especially) after I’d fed it. It was only when I took it out of its lovely white pot cover – which I’d bought earlier this year as part of a set and left on the windowsill of our entrance hall awaiting a plant pot to put in it – that I realised why. Handy pots left on windowsills in our household get random things put in them, it turns out. Like spent button batteries, for example. And it also turns out basil doesn’t thrive when sitting in a weak solution of battery acid. Who knew?

On the other hand, it might also do for the slugs …


Crooked Billet

April 18, 2018

For those of you wondering, the lack of posting on the raised bed front unfortunately reflects a lack of progress due to a combination of rain and the need to earn money to pay for the things. Today was suffering from both obstacles but after lunch, with my brain in sore need of a rest and the rain letting up, I thought I’d get the next two into position, if not filled.

raised bed corners

As an aside, I’m pretty pleased with these raised bed kits so far. Yes, we could have built raised beds out of wood from scratch for about half the cost, but if we’d opted for that we’d probably still be drawing up plans, whereas these just fit together very neatly and are pinned into place with a couple of pegs which even a feeble person like me can drive into position with a couple of whacks with a hammer.

They’re also pretty light so I can put them up single handed and manoeuvre them into position, which is handy when you have just started filling them and then walk past and look at them from another angle and think …

crooked raised beds

… ah no, that’s too crooked, even for me.

The problem is, the site isn’t particularly square, so they were always going to be a bit skew whiff both in relation to the other elements of the garden (themselves not square) and each other. I’m not someone who insists my pictures hang straight or things have to be particularly neat (as you might have worked out from the rest of the garden) but it turns out I have my limits.

A bit of digging and shoogling later, and it was all a bit less jarring to the eye and no doubt once everything gets growing, any remaining wonkiness should be disguised by the rampant vegetation.

less crooked

Which might be sooner than I like because with the warmth, spring is all ‘here I come, ready or not’ …

seedlings coming

Hopefully they’ll all have homes to go to before it’s too late.

Making Mountains (Well, Raised Beds) Out of Molehills

April 8, 2018

Apologies that this is becoming the ‘all raised beds, all the time’ blog but while I’m doing lots of other things (work, cycling, Pedal on Parliament, lying awake at night fretting about Pedal on Parliament, bending the other half’s ear about how I’m fretting about Pedal on Parliament, being gently reminded that it is always like this Every Single Time in the run up to Pedal on Parliament), none of them are particularly blogworthy, whereas with the raised beds I have a bit of a job on my hands …

… but crucially it’s an eminently doable one.

The plan is to fill the raised beds with cut turf at the bottom (turned upside down in the forlorn hope that this might at least slow the bloody grass down; I realise nothing will stop it from growing as that – like the rest of the countryside around here – is what this garden most wants to do), followed by my birthday bags of well rotted horse manure (towards the bottom because it’s full of grass seed, see previous parentheses), followed by garden compost (ditto), followed by topsoil.

Traditionally, you get your soil from molehills and this year – it’s as if they knew – we’ve got plenty of those.


Some bigger than others.

large pile of soil

If I’m honest, no small part of the raised bed project has been driven by the need to remove the soil we dug out to put in the greenhouse. In the process, several other piles have had to be created, not least more stones, but today we did manage to at least get five out of the eleven (eek!) raised beds filled, and put a dent in the big pile. I’ve also learned we need to raise our compost game, but that’s a blog post for another day.

five filled raised beds

Veg plot taking shape. And not one of your boring right-angled regular shapes, either … ahem. Right angles are so last century, right?

Now if anyone can think of something to do with several piles of stones, I would be grateful.

pile of stone

What a Difference …

April 6, 2018

… A bit of sunshine makes, with spring finally making a guest appearance yesterday, and apparently now settled in for the week.* It wasn’t exactly ‘taps aff’ in Bigtown, but I felt a bit overdressed in my hat, scarf and winter gloves when I cycled down for the paper and discovered that everyone else was in their summer clothes. What can I say, they’re a hardy bunch. There were even other cyclists out on the country roads (I was deep in conversation with myself, plugging up the hill on my way home, when I was startled by a cheery voice saying ‘nice day for it!’ just at my right shoulder. Turns out other cyclists actually maintain their bikes to the point where they can silently sneak up on people …).

I didn’t technically have any time for gardening yesterday, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get on with the earth moving project that the raised beds have turned into. I was only going to clear away the soil and tackle assembling them later, but I got the bit between my teeth and it turned out to be pretty straightforward in the end.

assembled raised beds

Assembled raised beds. That small cairn of stones in the foreground is the inevitable result of doing any digging around here …

Today I was going to start filling them, ready for the potatoes which are waiting chitting on the windowsill, but the rain came down just as I had met my last deadline of the week and was ready to head out to do some muck shifting at last.

potatoes chitting indoors

Fortunately, it doesn’t rain inside the greenhouse so I did some binge planting instead. Now all I have to do is assemble and fill the other eight raised beds before everything starts climbing out of the pots unassisted.

seeds planted in greenhouse

That should be easy enough, right?

* I actually thought my Met Office weather app might be broken when I looked at it this morning and there was no forecast for rain/sleet/snow/plagues of frogs for the whole week, just a row of white clouds and more-or-less normal temperatures for the time of year. Surely some mistake?


March 28, 2018

Are you bored of the raised beds yet? Well tough, although I’ll spare you the unboxing video.

If I had done a video it would mostly have been me scratching my head because the various pieces come with precisely zero instructions. However, we (and by ‘we’ obviously I mean the other half) have worked out how they seem to need to be linked together. It’s actually fairly straightforward, although that doesn’t mean I won’t still attempt to do it wrong in some way …

Today, it being mostly dry except for the precise moment when I set off for the paper on the bike, I managed to finish digging out where the first three joined beds will go.

raised bed not fitting

Hmm, more digging needed

Well, almost …

raised bed fitting

A little further digging and things are taking shape. I’m still not entirely sure how I will manage the process of moving the earth around and knocking the pegs in that should hold the whole thing in place, but I will definitely get the other half to check before I do anything too irrevocable.

Meanwhile, a load of crap awaits. And not a metaphorical one either …

bags filled with horse poo

Raising Cain

March 27, 2018

My raised beds arrived yesterday – with somewhat less than brilliant timing as I’m only halfway through preparing the place where the first three will go, and last night the rain came down all night leaving the soil too soggy for standing on, let alone digging.

You might ask why I need to dig at all, given that the whole point of raised beds is that you can put them anywhere and fill them with soil. This is true, but I also thought that it might be good to remove the top layer of grass first, just to stop it all from growing through. And then it occurred to me that it would be good to have the topsoil set aside to add to the beds, seeing as I’ve got so many to fill. And then I decided that as the veg plot slopes the wrong way (south to north, effectively) it would make sense to make the top beds slightly sunken so that they don’t shade out the lower beds as much. And anyway sometimes when you’ve got a lot of bitty stuff on and a lot of it’s out of your control and there may be an element of cat herding going on, it’s good to dig …

raised bed preparation

Be that as it may, today was too wet for me to get on with any of that, so I’ve been getting on with clearing out all the dead leaves and stems and generally tidying up the more (eventually) decorative part of the garden. I’m still feeling a bit unsure what to do about this. Inheriting a once-beautifully-landscaped but not to your taste garden is even worse than inheriting a brand new but not to your taste kitchen – at least with a kitchen, you can leave it for 10 years until you feel justified in remodelling it and it won’t get any worse. With the garden, the vague plan remains to get the productive bits (greenhouse, raised beds, fruit cage) sorted while keeping on top of the rest of it and then tackle the more decorative bits once we’re clearer what I want other than ‘not 5 different kinds of gravel and a water feature’. The hope is that as I add plants and try and reclaim the more neglected areas one at a time, a garden will gradually emerge out of the process. The fear is that it will all just revert to wilderness as I fail to get to grips with it.

Today was supposed to just be a bit of ‘keeping on top of it’ pottering but I did decide to just hoick out a clump of lady’s mantle that had got itself established among some stones. Lady’s mantle is one of those plants that is technically not a weed, but it self seeds everywhere and it never really looks that brilliant so I am trying to root it out where I can. This one was mixed in with some grasses which I suspect are just ordinary grass but which got promoted to ‘ornamental’ last year as they did have quite attractive seed heads.

I have blogged in the past about the dangers of taking on any project which starts with the word ‘just’ – in this case, it turns out that even quite small clumps of lady’s mantle have root systems that go all the way down to hell, and then some. This is just the stuff that I got out. I’d like to think that will have dealt with it, but I suspect I may just have reinvigorated it …

lady's mantle clump

Maybe ‘reverting to wilderness’ isn’t such a bad plan after all

Mucking In

March 21, 2018

As birthdays go, one where you suddenly have a 700 page manuscript to do a final check on (and can we have it by Thursday) isn’t really up there. On the other hand, cake for breakfast is always good, and so is adding to the teetering pile of to-be-read books on my bedside cabinet (they all get read eventually; I don’t understand why some people think a large pile of unread books is a bad thing somehow), plus veeery fancy merino from the other half. And to cap it all, I spent the afternoon with a pal shovelling some nice well-rotted manure into feedsacks ready for it to be transported up here to fill my raised beds when they arrive.

Gardeners will understand why this genuinely does count as a birthday treat …