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.


Flutterby

July 23, 2018

butterflies on buddleia bushes

Whether it’s the warm weather or my relaxed approach to the many buddleia bushes in the garden, the place is alive with butterflies at the moment. In fact, we’ve had so many peacocks sunning themselves on the paths and elsewhere, I’ve had to be a bit careful where I tread …

peacock butterfly

This one was obliging enough to sit for a portrait and even uncoil its tongue – which I didn’t notice until I was going through the photos later. How cool is that? They’re definitely creatures that just get weirder the closer you look.

peacock tongue coiled

It also helps justify my chemical-free approach to gardening as I’d rather have weeds and butterflies (and hares) than a bowling-green lawn and a pristine gravel drive (although actually what we’ve got (as well as the weeds and the butterflies and hares) is a gravel drive that is closer to lawn than gravel in places). Fortunately, an hour or so mindlessly pulling up weeds in the drive is rather soothing when you’re in the right frame of mind, so one day we might get all the way back to gravel …

Even better, is weeding the raised beds. I have to confess that normally whenever I take a shot of any of my veg growing, I usually have to do a bit of hurried weeding first (I’ve even considered photoshopping the damn things out). But not this time. It may just be because they’re newly created and haven’t had time to get properly weed infested, but it took just half an hour to get those bits of the plot that the hares weren’t sitting on absolutely pristine.

weed free leeks

weed free fennel

I could get used to this …


And Now for Everything Else

May 2, 2018

After an exciting weekend …

… back to the real world.

Gardens, and spring (and work) wait for no cycle campaigners. I was pleased to get home and spot the first potato leaves peeking through in the raised beds – especially as it meant I could get them earthed up before the overnight frosts (hello May) had a chance to give them a nip.

potatoes peeking through

The trays of seedlings are waiting impatiently to go out. I’ve put the peas, kale and broccoli on a bench out of the reach of slugs and hares to harden off – the forecast was for milder weather but I hadn’t factored in that this meant rain, wind and, indeed, hail. My approach to gardening has always been along the lines of ‘what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger’, although I can’t strictly speaking recommend this as mostly it does just kill them.

seedlings waiting to go out

The raised-bed raising continues (I was going to write ‘apace’ but that would be a lie). So far I’m just about keeping ahead of the need to plant stuff out, but it’s going to be a close run thing.

raised bed progress

How does your garden grow?


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.

molehills

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?


Unboxing

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


I’ll See your Veg and Raise you …

March 16, 2018

Vegetable plot in March

vegetable plot master plan

Master plan. Version 1 …

As I mentioned earlier, plans are afoot for raised beds in the veg plot, which is currently home to some overwintering and just-about-to-bolt leeks and some hare-nibbled kale. Indeed, I had gone so far as to measure out the space available, work out the size of raised beds I wanted and draw up an actual plan. I was quite pleased with myself at having done this by myself, no mean feat with a tape measure that’s not actually as long as the longest stretch of the vegetable plot.

Having sourced some locally made recycled plastic raised beds, and realised how expensive the whole thing was going to be, I then effectively parked the project to think about it for a while, until I either made a decision or some raised beds miraculously fell out of the sky, but with spring approaching and no alternatives magically presenting themselves, I ordered a single raised bed unit to see whether they looked okay in real life.

This arrived yesterday, about 3 hours after the email telling me it would be coming in 3-7 working days (always good to manage your customers’ expectations), so today I went out to do one last check of my measurements and set the bed up where it was likely to end up. Hmm. Top tip for gardeners: always best to ensure you have included the widths of the paths between the raised beds in your masterplan…

After recruiting the other half, a bit of re-measuring, the removal of one buddleia bush (don’t worry about the butterflies, the garden is currently about 30% buddleia by volume), the demolition of the hare defences, and the remeasuring of the space, we worked out that we did have space for everything, got the trial raised bed up and had a look.

recycled plastic raised bed

It is quite shiny, although I suspect that won’t last. Much as I like the aesthetic of wooden beds, I like the thought of adding to the market for recycled plastic products even more, so we’ve decided to go for it and buy 10 more to complete my master plan.

The master plan also includes better hare defences, and I’m thinking we can move our bay trees into the plot as well, as they seem to get fairly heavily nibbled by the hares, especially in the snow. But then again, there wasn’t much else in the garden they could eat during the snow apart from the kale. Obviously it would be ridiculous to have extra bay trees elsewhere in the garden, just for the hares. So we definitely won’t be doing that. Definitely. Ridiculous idea.

hare outside front door

Anyone know what other plants hares particularly like to eat?