Suspending Belief

March 20, 2022

It’s been a busy week last week helping my parents get their house in order to be put on the market as they make the move to Bigtown (if you’ve ever wondered why estate agents’ house listings never include a photograph of at least one room, I can confirm that that’s the room where all the stuff is that has been tidied away into, and if you’re reading this, Mum, I hope you find everything you need before the move…). Today, safely back home, and with the sun shining and, unusually, a gap in the work schedule, I had a couple of hours to get on with Project Maybe Don’t Completely Neglect Your Own Garden This Year.

First up: getting peas, mangetout and sweetpeas planted and hung in a place of safety away from the mice. Hopefully the string will hold otherwise it will likely not end well. It would be fairly typical of my gardening efforts to have spent a lot of time and trouble protecting my legumes from mice only to have them plummet to their doom the minute they germinate.

seed modules suspended from the greenhouse roof

Then I spent some time either (A) lovingly potting on the few tiny Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane) seedlings to survive overwintering or (B) lovingly potting on some random weeds – although in some quarters Mexican fleabane is a weed, so it’s possible the answer is both (see also Buddleia, which people tend as cherished garden plants around here, and which grows out of abandoned buildings in London).

planted seed trays and pots

Either way – whether it all ends in triumph, or disaster, time will tell, but having spent the afternoon happily gardening in a sunny greenhouse, I feel like I’ve already won anyway.

Or at least I did until I read this post from Belgian Waffle and became intensely jealous of the Irish census and this genius question. We’ve nothing so exciting in ours, which I also dutifully did this afternoon (they invited us to fill it in a couple of weeks ago but it seemed to me to be tempting fate to fill it in in advance of the actual census day).


Stand By

June 17, 2021

It’s hard to believe but I have finally found myself out the other side of the enormous pile of work I’ve been buried under for the last three months, and I’ve actually arranged with myself to take the next few weeks off (so apologies now if anyone was hoping for a fine summer …).

There’s now basically a three month backlog of gardening to get through, which I made a start on today. Step one was going to be turning all the compost in the compost daleks and emptying one so that I can fill them again but this was scuppered when I lifted up the bin that was ready to be emptied and discovered a tiny pink baby mouse snuggled up in what had been a cosy den up until that point. I’m generally fairly ruthless about mice but this one was looked too helpless and naked to survive eviction, so I hastily (but carefully) put the bin back down over the compost and had to make do with turning the others. I wonder how long it takes baby mice to grow up?

Vegetable patch in progress

Anyway, there has been gardening done and there will be time to do more, and hopefully there will a few more interesting things to blog about to boot. Starting with a bit of a bike-related adventure…

Watch this space.


Blasted Stockpilers

March 18, 2020

So, with everything being cancelled now, and spring advancing fast across the land – you might be wondering how my gardening is getting on. Surely this will be the year when everything gets planted in good time, the weeds get tackled, the wilderness beaten back (except where I’m actively encouraging it to come forward)?

Well, maybe. Today I did venture up to the greenhouse to water the seeds I’ve planted so far and to start preparing the beds for their future inhabitants. Peering at my sweetpea planters I noticed that one of them had what looked remarkably like a broad bean seed in it. Funny, I thought and looked again and realised that, no, it was two broad beans. And that the modules where I’d planted my broad beans had a neatly excavated little hole in each one.

excavated planting modules

The mice have clearly figured out a way into the greenhouse and had been busy storing up their own supplies by excavating every single broad bean and pea seed I’d planted, stashing some (I expect there will be misplaced pea and bean plants all over the place) and – from the evidence of the little pile of bean shells in the corner – scoffing the rest. So much for us gardeners having a ready source of food in the coming months.

broad bean remains

Fortunately, between the ones I found and the leftovers in the packet I had enough seeds to replant (and the modules are safely in the utility room until they sprout). I feel a tiny bit guilty about stealing the poor mice’s supplies but then again, if they hadn’t been greedy enough to dig up too many to hide properly, then I might never have noticed and they could have consumed the rest at their leisure. I’m sure there’s an Aesop’s fable along similar lines…


Well, That Was Quick

May 12, 2016

I haven’t even caught up with the garden backlog yet, and the disasters have already begun

Chomped broad beans

I’m really hoping this isn’t the return of the rabbit. The guys who do the landlords’ gardening bring along a couple of jack russells* with them, one of which had apparently dispatched a couple of rabbits over the winter, but they were up in the walled garden yesterday and didn’t encounter any bunnies. And besides, a rabbit would have eaten all of them, so it may be mice.

chilli flakes on broad beans

Whatever it is, I am following the advice of Gardeners’ Question Time and trying chilli flakes as a deterrent. OK, so the advice was for your bulbs, not your already planted (and partially chomped) broad beans, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Or I may just have made my pea and bean plants extra tasty for the more adventurous rodents, but time will tell on that one

chilli flakes on peas

There is exciting house news, but that will have to wait … Have a bluebell instead

bluebell

*I actually had to ask what breed they were because they looked a bit like jack russells but they weren’t yapping their heads off.


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 …


Mouse-Eye View

April 2, 2013

As the snow receded from the walled garden over the weekend, we spotted this:

mouse(?) tunnels through the grass

Closer inspection revealed what would appear to be a network of tracks through the moss and grass, presumably carved under the snow cover by mice or something of that ilk (I also have photos of poo if it helps anyone identify them… the tracks appeared mostly to be running to neat little latrines. Obviously ‘don’t foul your own nest’ is something better understood by mice than by humans.)

mouse tunnel and hole

 

mouse hole

Thinking about it, it must have been rather cosy running around underneath the snow, safely hidden from any hovering kestrels or passing cats. I’d almost feel quite fond of them, if it weren’t for the other traces they’ve been known to leave…

mouse-nibbled beetroot


Nibbled Away

November 9, 2012

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about growing veg in the last three years, it’s that the one thing you think you’ve got cracked, that will be the thing that fails. Last year our perpetual spinach seemed the star performer: easy to grow, hardy and relatively tough, it lived up to its name and produced a steady supply of almost-spinach all winter and well into the spring in return for nothing but a regular application of old coffee grounds. Easy peasy. And this year it’s been shaping up to repeat the performance: germinated direct in the soil, shrugged off a few slug attacks, happily providing bunches of the green stuff from about July onwards, as long as you don’t crop it too heavily.

At least until the mice found it. I went up yesterday to feed it more coffee and found it looking a bit strange. It turned out that underneath the cover of the leaves the mice had been nibbling away at the beets (it’s actually a leaf beet) at the base of the stem until they’d completely beheaded the whole plant, just as they had done to my beetroot last year, although curiously they’ve left the beetroot alone. Might be time to take the cat up there and have her earn her keep…


Build a Better Mousetrap

November 23, 2010

My mother, as I may have already mentioned, feeds the birds on an industrial scale. She even has a specially constructed bunker outside the house for storing bird food, including a huge plastic tub to hold peanuts for the peanut feeder. The two mice who chewed their way into the tub must have thought they’d reached some sort of mouse heaven. Here were peanuts beyond their wildest dreams, and a lovely dark peaceful place in which to enjoy them…


The flaw in this plan, once the peanut level had dropped as the weeks wore on, must only have occurred to them after they had squeezed through their usual hole and into the tub. Whether it was because the level was now too low for them to jump out again, or that they were just too tubby to get back out the way they had come in, they were now stuck and had no option but to wait for rescue, undoubtedly getting heartily sick of peanuts in the process. Fortunately for the mice, my parents are kind hearted people and merely tipped them out into the garden to go and raid someone else’s stores. But if there’s anyone out there who wants an extremely humane mousetrap, I think this design might be a goer…


One Good Turn

October 6, 2010

Coming back from Notso Bigtown yesterday, stocking up after our Irish trip, we found the neighbour’s kitten was sitting outside his front door unable to get back in. I don’t know how it got out or even if it was meant to be out but it was looking fairly miserable, especially when it started bucketing down with rain. Besides, its got the sort of road sense that had it crouching behind the back wheel of our car when the other half got in to drive off, so I thought it would be a good idea if we temporarily catnapped it until the neighbour got home, purely as a neighbourly act and absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it’s rather desperately cute and playful although somewhat too prone to sitting on my computer keyboard when I’m trying to work.

Anyway it came in and had a good nose round, the way any neighbour would the minute they get the chance to have a look next door, and I gave it a saucer of water, and the other half – who doesn’t approve of cats on principle – unbent sufficiently to fashion a rather creepy disembodied hand cat toy out of a glove on a piece of string. And we were just beginning to wonder when exactly the neighbour was planning on coming home when there was an abrupt scuffling sound and we went into the kitchen to find the kitty briskly dispatching a mouse.

You know, the Londoner in me is always a little reticent about getting too cosy with the neighbours. Friendly chats in passing, the loan of a cup of sugar or a pint of milk, or the occasional invitation to pop round for a drink or a meal are all very well, but you don’t want to be stuck with the sort of neighbour who’s always watching your every move, inviting themselves in, never leaving, always there. Unless, of course, that neighbour is a cat who catches mice. That neighbour is definitely welcome to drop round any time.

I might have to revisit the name of my blog though.


The Dogfather

May 12, 2010

I was in a farmyard this morning, and I noticed a little black and white cat, barely more than a kitten, coming out of a barn with a mouse in its jaws. It dropped its prey at the feet of the old sheep dog which sleeps chained up in the sun there, and nudged it with its head, as though to show it what a wonderful present it had brought it.

‘Awwwww,’ I said to my cycling buddy. ‘How cute is that?’ and we cooed for a while at the little vicious killer and its ancient partner in crime.

I have definitely lived in the country too long now.