Gardening Leave

May 6, 2016

campaign t-shirts on the line

I find myself between jobs (and campaigning) for a week or two – a rare luxury. Naturally there is all sorts of admin backlog I should be getting on with, which I’m chipping away at, but there is finally the time (and the weather) to try and catch up with the garden.

broad beans planted

The first batch of broad beans are in, as are the peas – and the last of the seed potatoes went in today, which may be something of a record for late planting.

seedlings awaiting planting

The queue of things awaiting planting doesn’t seem to get any shorter though. And you’ll note the careful camera angles so you can’t see the weeds and the overgrown paths …

Maybe if I get a few more days to catch up with myself I’ll be able to show you what it really looks like. Well, assuming that this really is the onset of spring and it isn’t about to start snowing again …


April 27, 2016

We woke this morning to clear skies and glorious sunshine – and no frost on the grass, for once, which was an improvement on the last couple of weeks. What better day, I thought, to take the peas and beans out of the greenhouse where I started them in a panic at the end of March and try and harden them off to plant them out before it’s actually May? And maybe get some washing out to boot?

hailstorm on laundry

And yes, I did stop to take a photo for the blog before rescuing the washing …

In retrospect, a day when it didn’t keep suddenly hailing, alternating with snowing, might have been better.

The weird thing was, in between hail/snow showers it was rather nice and even warm. In fact, I was sitting on the bench with my lunch when the first lot fell and it confused me because there I was enjoying the warmth of the sun, and here was this white stuff falling out of the sky – I confess, I looked up to see if there was a jackdaw or something dropping things because that made more sense than snow.

Anyway, according to all the gardening columns, hardening off your glasshouse-grown plants is a gradual process of putting them out on sunny days and progressively getting them used to the great outdoors with longer spells in the cold and eventually keeping them out overnight – not subjecting them to a day of violent freak weather conditions and hoping for the best.

broadbean seedlings

Fortunately, my peas and broad beans seem a pretty hardy bunch. With any luck they’ll survive tomorrows plague of frogs, or whatever it is the Weather Gods have in store, and I can plant them out at the weekend, ready for it to hail taxis.

Pea seedlings

Running to Stand Still

April 15, 2015

Pedal on Parliament effectively reached the email event horizon today – that point where emails start coming in faster than I can deal with them, so I can sit down at my computer thinking I’ll just get some minor task done while I start lunch, and an hour later I’ll still be typing away with my lunch cooling beside me and actually more behind with my inbox fuller than it was when I started and not having actually done the thing that I switched it on to do in the first place.

sprouting onions

This isn’t great news for the garden; in a sane and rational world we would hold POP in September when the weather is still generally nice and gardening consists of swanning about with secateurs harvesting things, not suddenly looking up from your inbox with a start and remembering that it is not enough to get hold of some onion sets, you actually have to go out and plant them before they climb out of their bag and start planting themselves but before you can do that you need to prepare the bed for them and what about those parsnips you were chitting, they need planting out too, and there are bastard mice in the greenhouse nipping off the tops of your broadbean seedlings* so better get them out of harm’s way as soon as possible. But we hold POP in spring because that’s when elections generally are – clearly politicians aren’t generally gardeners any more than they are cyclists (and perhaps if they were either, we really would live in a sane and rational world…).

decapitated broad bean

Fortunately, as most of the POP team ARE cyclists, I do get a reprieve between 5 and 7 as that is when most self-respecting cyclists are cycling home from work (and then eating their bodyweight in toast) and so the emails slackened off and, as it was a suddenly gorgeous evening, I was able to escape to try and catch up with the gardening backlog. I can’t say I was exactly successful there either, but the situation is at least no worse than when I started, which is more than I can say for my emails …

broad beans planted out

We’re also falling behind with eating the purple-sprouting broccoli, but I’m filing that one under ‘nice problem to have’.

purple-sprouting broccoli

* for no discernable reason at all. At least the slugs actually *eat* the things they attack. Still, it makes me feel slightly less bad for all those times I’ve seen the cat playing with her food …

Scotland Agrees …

September 12, 2014

… regardless of the current debate raging over Scotland’s future, everyone I have spoken to recently is unanimous: this fine, dry, warm September weather can continue just as long as it likes. If it wasn’t for the chilly starts, we might actually be in July.

It’s been good news for the garden with a bonus second picking of broad beans – maybe not quite enough for a meal, but enough to make a solid contribution to a dish of Random Veg Risotto (where we’re going to put all the French beans is another question seeing as we have rashly filled up the freezer with blackberries).

September broad beans

My peas, which have been absolutely pathetic all summer long, have suddenly discovered their mojo. In September. (They’re still not climbing up any of the supports I provide for them, of course, but I’m used to that)

bonus peas

And the dinosaur egg mystery beans? Well, whatever they are, there are about to be a lot more of them…

mystery beans

This may or may not be a good thing.


June 17, 2014

salad and spring onions

As a long period of far too much gadding about begins to draw to a close, we passed a bit of a milestone in the garden, with the first salad picked this weekend. That makes it the first crop for this growing season. Everything else is madly behind except for the broad beans, which are quietly going beserk and seem impervious to neglect. I must have a rummage and see if there’s enough beans in there to make them worth picking.

Broad beans

On the other hand, my peas are looking pretty weedy for some reason (although I have no idea why we call it that: weeds themselves never seem to be weedy; in robust health would be more like it)

weedy looking peas

As ever, my garden provides a mixture of pleasure and angst. I could happily spend hours doing activities which would be dangerously close to ‘tidying up’ if done indoors but which are highly enjoyable in the context of a garden. The painful part comes when I don’t have hours to potter in and the list of things to be done urgently gets longer and longer. Growing veg is pretty time consuming and planting dates wait for no man. I’ve already lost half my fennel by keeping it too long before planting it out and the celeriac was a complete non starter. Everything else is being threatened by weeds. I comfort myself with the thought that you can never actually finish gardening so it’s all relative. However, it would be nice to be able to find the crop in among the weeds

vegetable plot in June

My fellow gardening pal in the village keeps dropping hints about coming up for a look round the plot. His own tiny garden is always crammed with immaculately kept and meticulously planned veg. There’s only so long I can continue to fob him off with stories of outbreaks of bubonic plague and/or zombie apocalypses before he’ll get suspicious. I’ll just have to keep cracking on until I have something worth showing off or at least something that won’t get me hauled before the court for garden neglect.

The mystery beans, at least, are doing well.

mystery climbing beans

Facts on the Ground

April 14, 2014

It’s that time of year when you only have to turn your back on a bulb of garlic and it turns into this

garlic bulb sprouting

So it got re-allocated from kitchen duties to joining the overwintering (and by ‘overwintering’ I mean ‘lost track of last summer and only rediscovered it when it sprouted’) garlic up in the veg plot.

overwintering garlic

The garden feels massively behind this year, but things are warming up at last and spring is advancing. Tempting though it is to dive in and go mad on a glorious sunny breezy day like today, the soil is still very damp and claggy and there are frosts forecast so I’m having to hold back from planting anything just yet, apart from the chitted parsnips. Everything else is crammed onto the shed windowsill biding its time with varying degrees of patience – I have to be a bit careful walking past the pea seedlings, lest they start climbing up my leg.

broad beans in flower

Thank goodness for my autumn-planted broad beans. Battered they may be, but they are magnificently in flower. Even though I’ve done practically nothing except take a punt and stick some in the ground last year on the off chance, it almost makes me feel like a real gardener…

Eight out of Ten Cats

January 8, 2014

As the weather app that came with my shiny new phone combined fiddliness with uselessness (as in, I had to click three links and get onto the internet to discover whether ‘overcast’ meant ‘overcast all day’ or ‘raining most of the day and then overcast for one random hour during the day, which anyway it predicted wrong), I naturally turned to twitter for alternatives. Most of twitter sensibly suggested the Met Office Weather app, which I have duly installed, but it also – via @strangemeetings – threw up the delightfully daft Weather Whiskers app, which gives you the forecast through the medium of lolcats.

Disappointingly, despite cats’ previously noted forecasting abilities, they don’t actually use cats to generate the forecast – I was imagining some sort of network of cats distributed across the country with radio collars tracking whether they were heading out for an evening’s marauding, or curled up safely on the sofa – but get it from the Weather Underground instead. Still, so far it seems accurate enough and while the Met Office is better at giving you the details, it is slightly less depressing to wake up to a forecast of Rainz. Oh Nos. And even better is when it changes from Meh Overcast to Mostly Cloudz to – amazingly – Partly Sunz which it did today. This alone makes it a win in my book.

And so I took advantage of the Sunz to get out and try and catch up with my garden again for the first time in weeks. At this time of the year it’s more a matter of carting manure around and digging than anything else but it has been so mild that some weeds are still growing – and they’re not the only things.

purple sprouting broccoli

The purple sprouting broccoli has jumped the gun by about three months (you always get one or two that go early, but almost all of them are showing sprouts just now) and the broad beans, completely unfazed by the gales that destroyed their cloche, are looking battered but unbowed.

Broad beans

If last year was anything to go by we’ve got a lot of winter still to come, but you take your green – or purple – shoots where you can find them these days.

Getting Personal

December 4, 2013

It was a glorious winter day today – bright, still, and not a cloud in the sky. Or rather, not a cloud in the sky until I had got five minutes into my papershop run this morning and a cloud appeared and sprinkled icy rain on me for the next mile or so before disappearing and the weather reverted to gloriousness.

Coincidence, you might think, but it happened again just as I headed up to the garden for a productive hour of muck shifting and spreading (there are some tasks that are best done when bunged up with a cold), the cloud then vanishing again as soon as I’d finished getting the washing in.*

Despite the return of normal service from the Weather Gods (I would say that I’ve missed them this year, but that would be a lie), I did manage to get some gardening in, and things are almost looking ready for winter

top bed ready for winter

There’s still kale (looooads of kale), beetroot, some rather weedy leeks and spinach on the go, and we haven’t even started on the parsnips. The purple sprouting broccoli has recovered from the attentions of the cabbage whites (oops) and are already throwing up a few sprouts, which is not surprising given how mild the autumn has been so far.

lower bed ready for winter

I’m even beginning to feel faintly optimistic about my overwintering broad beans. I wasn’t expecting much but I had some soon-to-be out-of-date seed left over and I thought why not stick them under the cloche and see what happens. Of all the things I thought might happen them coming up and thriving and all but outgrowing the cloche seemed the least likely but that’s what they’ve done. You never know, they might make it through the rest of the winter … although now that the weather gods are back on form, they may end up victim to the blizzards, tornadoes, or just plagues of frogs that are undoubtedly coming my way.


* There are some people who just leave the washing out through showers on the grounds that it dries eventually, but I haven’t dared lay down that sort of a gauntlet to the weather gods.

Questions Expecting the Answer ‘Yes’

June 14, 2013

When you’ve boasted within earshot of the weather gods of the magnificence of your broad beans while noting their vulnerability to the faintest of breezes due to your having neglected to stake them, would it be a good idea to go up immediately and stake them before it’s too late?

And if you’ve failed to do so immediately would it behove you to then take more than an academic interest in the weather man announcing that today would be unusually windy for June and sprint up and stake them then before the wind got up and your broad beans ended up looking like this?

flattened broad beans

And would it, on the whole, be easier to tie up broad beans on a nice still calm-before-the-storm sort of morning rather than at the point when the storm is roaring in on a north wind?

And is this what a stable bolted after the horse has gone looks like, interpreted in the medium of string, stakes and battered-looking broad bean plants?

tied up broad beans

When will I learn?

How Does your Garden Grow?

June 7, 2013
veg plot

The plot in June

Astoundingly (and I will undoubtedly live to regret this), despite mega busyness these last few months, I seem to be vaguely on schedule with the vegetable growing this year. This is partly down to a late spring, and partly down to the recent glorious weather which has meant that, despite the fact that I’m really too busy to be gardening, I’ve just had to grant myself at least an hour a day on the days when I’m not gadding about too much.

Things are all a bit weedy (and by ‘a bit’ I mean ‘really quite a lot’, obviously) but the potatoes are looking good, onions are in, my leeks are – for once – bigger than my spring onions which is only partly down to the fact that the pheasant has nipped all the spring onions’ heads off, the peas and broadbeans are flourishing although I’ll definitely regret saying that because I haven’t staked my broadbeans yet and it will only take a mild breeze to knock them over, the french beans, parsnips, kale, perpetual spinach, purple sprouting broccoli and garlic are all in, and the only thing so far that’s looking a bit miserable are the mangetouts which the slugs have discovered you can definitely mange tout of them, and have. I’ve even managed to get some sweetcorn germinating directly in the ground, it’s been so warm. If this is our summer, and I suspect it is, then everything’s going to bolt like mad in July but for now I’m just going to enjoy it, while touching wood and crossing my fingers and sending up a prayer to the weather gods not to ruin absolutely everything…

Broad beans

You know this was intended to show my magnificent broad beans but it turned out to be also of my magnificent weeds…

broad bean flower

Just concentrate on the magnificence of those beans, eh?