Spring Unstrung

March 17, 2018

As spring cycling goes, struggling up the hill from New Nearest Village (which manages to be uphill from our house in both directions), towing a trailer full of empty feed bags (top tip for rural folk – don’t ask on your local village freecycle if anyone has any feed bags; it turns out everyone here feeds the birds on an industrial scale and they apparently never throw anything away), into an icy wind with the snow swirling about me at the same time as the (surprisingly warm) spring sunshine was warming my face, pretty much sums up the the kind of season we’ve had.

On the plus side, if it didn’t weigh so much even when it’s empty, I think I’d probably tow that trailer everywhere.* Whether it’s the apparent width of it (no wider than my handlebars, but it still manages to make me apparently more three-dimensional than when I’m not towing it), the fact that it makes it clear I’m not out cycling for the hell of it, I’m busy doing important things like moving empty feed sacks around, or perhaps the possibility that I have a child or even a dog in there, drivers do pass you with much more space even on our B road. This is an extra bonus when your eyes are watering so much you can barely see – and you’re having to pedal to make any headway even once you get to the downhill bit.

Still, it could be worse. We’ve visiting relatives who are (hopefully) on their way to us after a trip to Ireland. It apparently took three goes even to get out of the harbour and into the Force 7 gale. As cheering thoughts go, when plugging up a hill on a bike with the wind trying to knife its way into one ear and out the other, ‘at least I’m not on the Belfast-Stranraer ferry’ is a bit feeble, but for Spring 2018 it will have to do …

*I wonder if there’s a crowdfunder somewhere for a trailer that weighs almost nothing. It wouldn’t have to be much good at carrying anything, just take up space on the road. Maybe something inflatable? Or a hologram?


Advance Warning

March 13, 2018

At the risk of incurring the ire of Huttonian – who is agin them, for some reason – here are some daffodils blooming away cheerfully at the foot of the climb up to our house

daffodils in bloom

Daffodils. Mental note to self: check for dog poo before getting off the bike to take photos

It says something about the difference a couple of hundred feet of altitude makes when you consider the most advanced daffs in our garden (which are right by the septic tank, coincidentally or not…)

daffodils not blooming

We find our raspberries and blackberries are a week or two later up here too, which at least gives me some notice to be ready to pick them (although the blackberries are actually much nicer at the bottom of the hill, probably through some quirk of genetics rather than the different microclimate.

This year, our tardy daffs may have the last laugh as it seems we’ve another bout of frost if not snow on the way. I read somewhere that we may also be due a gloriously hot and sunny May as part of this whole weather vortex thing. I can’t remember where – and to be frank it could be the Met Office or it could be the Daily Express or it could be someone with a strand of seaweed nailed outside their kitchen window and I’m still going to choose to believe it because that’s what I’m hanging on for at this stage of the game…


There are some days …

March 9, 2018

… especially at this time of year, when if you don’t have any errands to run on the bike, you have to invent some …

snow melting by the road

Now that the snow is mostly gone – for now at least – time to venture out into the garden to see what has survived the onslaught of winter.

My Fromaldi plants – having gamely kept on flowering for ages – are looking a bit sorry for themselves (on a spectrum from ‘battered but unbowed’ to ‘dead on arrival’), but two of the Gaura seedlings I planted out at the beginning of autumn have survived so far, although they are not looking completely convincing.

Gaura plant

The tulips I planted seem to be coming up, stripey leaves and all, which is exciting. The olive tree has completely shed its leaves again, clearly having failed to read that it’s supposed to be evergreen. At least, I hope that that’s the problem, although I’m beginning to think that if you want a Mediterranean garden, the best place to plant one is in the Mediterranean (but where would be the fun in that, the gardeners cry)

tulips emerging

And then there’s the greenhouse, last seen with snow drifting under its door. Ages back, being keen to get going, the other half planted out some mixed lettuce seed in there. Clearly this was a doomed enterprise as we have since had at least two separate weeks of sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow, and our greenhouse is not a heated one so tender little lettuce seedlings stood precisely no chance

lettuce seedlings

Fortunately, they haven’t read the instructions either.


Hope Springs

June 7, 2017

I’m trying to distract myself from the election, which has gone from a head-in-hands, can’t-watch horrorshow to something much more painful – the faintest dawning glimmer of hope that we might not end up with a Tory landslide on our hands. Obviously, that will just make Friday morning even more crushing so instead I bring you the fruits of a project I’ve been working on in the background for the last few weeks entitled ‘discovering how difficult it is to do a timelapse properly’.

We have a wood on the way to our house which is just lovely, and I’ve been trying to record the way it has been changing over the seasons. Woods generally are very difficult to capture properly, and trying to get a consistent image (never mind the lighting) is harder still, as I think my efforts probably demonstrate. But if you squint a bit and apply your imagination I hope you will catch some feeble reflection of what I was attempting to do.

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Enjoy. You have until Friday morning to feel that sense of springlike optimism pervading your soul.


What Lies Beneath

March 25, 2017

So, I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to discover how the manky pink carpet experiment has been getting on.

carpet-covered veg bed

Well, as it happens, due to a rare confluence of events that meant I was not required to be in a random Scottish city this weekend, combined with a slight lull in the immediate pressure of POP preparation (but there’s still time to contribute to our crowd funder, just saying), and a day promising sunshine and light winds, gave me the perfect (indeed, possibly the only) opportunity to find out. In fact, I would have been hard pressed not to spend today out in the garden, given the gloriousness of the weather.

potatoes chitting

So far this year, my entire preparation for growing veg has been a half-hour trolley dash through potato day (top tip: label your seed potato bags before you pick your potatoes, and then put them in alphabetical order for maximum efficiency), and chitting my seed potatoes. I knew that the carpet hasn’t been down long enough to properly deal with the weeds or let the organic matter break down, but spring waits for nobody, and I decided to open up the first bed and put my first and second earlies in today.

veg bed uncovered

If I’d been hoping that underneath there had been a magical transformation into wonderful friable rich soil, I would have been disappointed, but if I’ve learned anything in gardening these past few years it’s to manage my expectations, so I was just pleased to discover that the grass it had covered up wasn’t just sitting there unscathed. There are still some clumps hanging in there to deal with, and a lot of the coarser plant material hadn’t broken down yet, but there was also a fairly healthy population of worms. So the carpet has saved me a lot of digging, although I suspect come later in the season when I’m battling the weeds that did survive, I will wish I’d been more patient

Fortunately potatoes have a fierce determination to grow and will do so even in a light-proof plastic bin so I suspect they will manage anyway (that said, I note that last year I was still putting potatoes in at the end of April, which might explain why we had such a rubbish crop – I had forgotten that. Clearly you can push even a seed potato too far.)

Anyway, given that I haven’t even bought any seeds yet, he rest of the bed can remain under the carpet for now, hopefully mulching down into something marvellous. Meanwhile the now-spare carpet has been moved up to where the fruit cage will be, which is currently about 50% nettle roots by volume. I don’t think we’ll be planting our raspberry canes there for a while …

potatoes planted

What with all the digging, lugging about of heavy stuff and general hard labour, I feel a bit broken now, but it does feel good to have got started for the season.


What is this Life …

March 24, 2017

spring trees

… if, full of care / We have no time to stand and stare?

There’s a field I pass on the way into Bigtown which is now full of lambs, still at their maximally cute knobbly-kneed, propeller tail stage. They’ve been sheltering by the trees right by the road, maximising photo-taking opportunities, but every time I’ve been passing I’ve been hurrying to catch a train or bus, or meet someone, or otherwise have not had time to stop. Today was probably another such occasion, but it was also a glorious if somewhat chilly spring moment so I thought I’d better try and seize the moment before they grew more reminiscent of Sunday lunch than spring.

lambs

Of course they all mostly ran away and hid behind their mothers as soon as they saw the bike, so you’ll just have to imagine the cuteness.


Hares Today …

March 14, 2017

hare outside front doorAs I may have mentioned, we have a resident hare in the garden. It has a few favoured spots where it likes to hang out, and it’s a bit fly to be photographed on a mobile phone, although today I did my best when I went into our entranceway today and found we had a visitor right outside (possibly contemplating nibbling the second of the pair of little bay trees that I had been hoping would frame our doorway; it’s already decapitated the first.)

When I was in Inverness, I also got a text from the other half to tell me that not one but two hares were hanging out on the manky pink carpet, waiting for the rain to stop. As hares are largely solitary, two hares can mean only one thing: that the time has come when a young hare’s fancy turns to, well, other hares (the ‘boxing’ they are famous for in March is generally down to the female hare not yet being similarly inclined and reminding the male hare that hares are largely solitary and she would prefer to keep it that way, thankyouverymuch). So far we’ve seen neither boxing nor any sign that they are doing more than just tolerating each others’ presence, but we live in hope of more hares tomorrow.

hare haring off

Naturally this makes the hare-proof defences for the vegetable patch increasingly urgent, but for now we are just enjoying their presence and trying to work out a means by which we and the hares can continue to share the garden nicely.


Spring has … ah

February 27, 2017

So I was hanging out the washing this morning, listening to all the birds out there singing their feathery little heads off, and noting how the sun has finally inched its way up in the sky to the point where it reaches over the top of the roof and so can help dry the laundry. And I was thinking that, these days, spring tends to invoke a sense of impending panic as much as anything else, what with Pedal on Parliament and now Walk Cycle Vote and never even mind the veg plot. Having a garden, fantastic as it may be for one’s mental health, does nothing but intensify the feeling of time galloping past with too much to do and not enough time to do it in.

However, this morning, I didn’t feel quite so much panic as I probably should. It’s not that everything is under control, exactly, but I’m just trying to deal with it. PoP is run under anarchist collective lines, which means there’s really no point trying to draw up any sort of detailed plan for anything, you just have to go with it; as a kill-or-cure treatment for control freakery and terminal anxiety it is highly recommended. And it probably helps that the garden is still under wraps and the longer I leave it there, the better it will probably be (technically, I should probably sit out the whole growing season to get rid of the worst perennial weeds but I’m not sure I can face another 12 months of staring at what is becoming increasingly manky carpet*). So I went inside to start work, happy to celebrate the impending arrival of spring, rather than try and push it back into its box until I was ready for it.

And then I looked up an hour or so later and noticed it was snowing.

*Indeed some of it seems to have got into the spirit of the thing and has started to go green


Fly in the Ointment

May 29, 2016

greenery in the garden

We’ve had some unforecasted nice weather in recent days, and the countryside has reached that perfect late-spring pitch, with the air absolutely heady with blossom (and wild garlic, but let’s not spoil the image too much). Yesterday morning I had to cycle to Notso Bigtown and was struck by the carpets of white and pink flowers taking over from the bluebells under the trees, although I was unfortunately running late and hadn’t time to take a decent photo. Coming home again I was struck by how gorgeous everything is as the trees are just bursting into leaf.

I sometimes feel guilty about time spent in the garden or on the bench or out on my bike when in reality I should be at the computer working (or writing …) but fine days at this time of the year are precious indeed and really shouldn’t be squandered indoors. So today, although I didn’t have all that much time to spare, I made sure that I at least cycled down to the village to stick up a poster and cycled back savouring every minute

Right up until I inhaled a fly and nearly cycled off the road trying to spit it out. Remind me to keep my open-mouthed wonder to when I’m off the bike in future, won’t you?


Ooof …

May 18, 2016

I’m knackered. Our local cycle campaign is running a ‘Bike Message* Challenge‘ starting next week, encouraging people to cycle to the local shops, bank, hairdresser, library, museum or wherever, instead of defaulting to the car. We were hoping that, with luck and a following wind, we might manage to sign up around 40 places to take – some of the more enlightened shops and cafes, the local libraries, the museums. What we weren’t expecting was that half of all the town centre shops would jump at the chance – it turns out that shopkeepers are keen to be involved in something that encourages customers to beat a path to their door, whatever their mode of travel. Who knew?

The downside (filed under ‘nice problem to have’) is that I’ve just spent the last two days tromping round the centre of Bigtown delivering the packs they need to take part to over a hundred shops. Which is a lot of talking to people – something I do find quite exhausting, especially a lot of strangers, and this being Bigtown the shopkeepers were mostly friendly and wanted a chat – and a lot of walking (the bike is more of a help than a hindrance when you’re going door to door). And as a result I’m absolutely shattered. It turns out that regularly cycling 16 miles a day – and being able to cycle all day if I’m going slow enough – is no training for effectively a day spent standing around chatting. I pedalled home with heavy legs and then spent a good hour collapsed next to the Rayburn until I could summon the energy to move.

It reminds me that I’ll miss the Rayburn when we move. It’s already beginning to make the odd chugging sound which means it will be fading out soon, and then we’ll switch it off for the summer. And by the time September comes around, we’ll be gone, and the new tenants will have the pleasure of its company in the kitchen. There’s absolutely no excuse really for running an oil-fired Rayburn in a well-regulated eco-conscious household, and we certainly won’t be getting one of our own. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be sorry when we turn it off for the last time.

spring greenery

And the picture? No reason, except that you cannot have too much spring greenery in your life.

* this makes more sense if you know that in Scotland your ‘messages’ means your shopping (or general errands)