Friday, 20 March 2015

Just a glimpse

Although it has been a good week in the garden it's been remarkably frustrating in other ways.  I don't want for much in my life, but I am desperate to see the Northern Lights for myself.  With a huge solar flare at the beginning of the week the likelihood of a good display was getting the sky-watching community more than a little excited.  The KP-index was almost off the scale and the sky seemed clear, so on Tuesday night I set off.  After packing the car with every camera in the house, every spare (fully charged) battery, every memory card I could lay my hands on, tripod, warm clothes and a couple of flasks of hot drink I headed north for our usual beach on the Solway Firth.

Long story short:  I arrived.  I sat and waited, and waited, and waited.  I wandered around and looked at 360ยบ of very dark sky.  I got increasingly freaked out about being in a pitch dark, isolated spot by myself (M. was in London, although he knew where I'd gone, and Daisy was at home) even though I knew perfectly well there was no-one around and absolutely no danger.

I came home around 1.30am.  What I probably should have done was sit in the garden.  What I did was come inside, talk to Daisy and look online ... to find jaw droppingly gob-smackingly beautiful images of the aurora taken at Whitehaven harbour - 10 miles south of here.  I don't know if I was too early, too late, or just plain unlucky.  I do know I was bloody tired the following morning.

Friday morning was the eclipse.  After two days of wall-to-wall sunshine we woke to thick cloud.  Daisy and I went for a short walk as the eclipse approached totality and although we couldn't see anything we certainly experienced it.  Lack of light, temperature dropped dramatically and the world just felt so different.

The astronomy Gods took pity on us a little later as the clouds parted briefly.  Using 'proper' safety glasses we were able to watch as the clouds came and went, and came again.  Towards the end I grabbed a camera and pointed it to roughly the right part of the sky.   Given I wasn't looking through the viewfinder I'm quite pleased.  It's not much but certainly better than nothing :-}


Thursday, 19 March 2015

To Do List

LP is back, thankfully, and on ‘light duties’ although what passes for ‘light’ with him would knock me out for a week, but he is (allegedly) an adult and capable of knowing how much he should be doing.  So, forbidden by me to shift soil, he was meant to be spending yesterday and today engaged mainly in carpentry tasks.

Finish edging on front of willow bed: ✔︎

Cut some extra re-bar for raised bed hoops: 

Finish emptying the trailer and put the remaining bark chip in the greenhouse, with enough to freshen up the path by the Top Pond:  ✔︎

Fix a timber edge to divide what will be our 'wild flower meadow' from the yew hedge ✔︎

So that was Wednesday.  He returned on Thursday morning in a particularly good mood, apparently having had no physical effects from the previous day's labour.  I thought he was going to build the small beds inside our fruit cage - he had other ideas.  Some days, it is best not to argue, although I did insist on lots of breaks.  Our meadow is a step closer . . . The strip on the left will be dug once we've set out a new path down the middle.

I haven’t been completely idle this week :-}  More seeds have been sown and the First Early potatoes are in pots.  I was going to leave it another week or so but the sprouts on “Swift” were definitely ready to be in soil.  Some are in the greenhouse for the earliest meal, the rest are outside with a little cover.

I did a little shopping. Firstly, Vinca to cover this small bed.  I was looking for spring-flowering heather but there was none to be had.  The Vinca might be even better - longer flowering season, really good for bees and will still create shelter for froglets as they leave the Top Pond.

And because, once again I didn’t sow seed in autumn, some beautiful looking Foxglove.  I grew Excelsior Mixed in the Coppice a couple of years ago and it was spectacular, fingers crossed these will perform as well.

And then I went back to the nursery and bought a significant quantity of box plants. I have a mad idea to create some box hedges (whilst praying we don't get the dreaded box blight) and maybe even put some topiary shapes in whilst we're about it.  If all these plant purchases seem extravagant, they're not.  For the past few years a local nursery (that's proper growing-plants-nursery, not a garden centre) has treated me as a 'pro' and not a regular, amateur gardener, and I get all my plants at wholesale.  This amounts to about a third of the cost of going to Dobbies, or Hayes, or somewhere with a huge overhead.  The range is often limited but the plants are generally tough and well-suited to our conditions.  It also means we've been able to afford to stock the garden much faster than we otherwise could have done.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

I never want to have to do this again

There are lessons to be learnt here.

For sometime now it has been fashionable not to straighten up the garden at the end of the year.  Apparently we’re meant to leave everything for ‘wildlife’.  That might be a good thing in an urban garden, but we have fields on two sides, log piles, ponds, untidy hedge bases and goodness knows what else, and we’ve definitely got a thriving and varied selection of wild things living in the garden.  With no chemicals and lots of sheltered places for hibernation I don’t think I need to leave all the knackered perennials until the following year.  I’ve never been intentionally fashionable in my life, but for the third year in a row I didn't manage to get the garden tidied up as Autumn turned to Winter.  For the third year in a row I’m starting the new season on the back foot and am already behind.

You would think I might have learnt my lesson the second time this happened, but the eternal optimist, I am always convinced there will be a decent spell of bright weather in January and I can do the cutting down and clearing up then . . . I may have finally learnt that 10 miles from the coast in West Cumbria I am not in charge - the weather is in charge (I may have mentioned this previously, it seems like the message is finally getting through!)

Falling out of love with the garden last summer and letting everything get on top of me didn’t help,  And this is why I have had spent an entire week clearing up the fruit cage.  Multiple sessions outside to the exclusion of all other {much more attractive} gardening tasks, including working on in the rain (hey, I was already wet and muddy, a bit more wasn't going to make any difference).   There are no ‘before’ photos because the horrible mess of the most profligate strawberry plants ever to grace a raised bed is not something I want to see again.  I adore the Marshmello plants which produce some of the best tasting fruit in the whole strawberry kingdom but they create runners like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

It's all been worth it though, each bed has had a feed of chicken pellets, a top dressing of peat and a mulch of composted bark, the fruit bushes are pruned and full of new buds and it won't be long before they are in leaf.

Once the paths have had a new covering* and additional “little beds’ built at the end of each row it will all be so smart I’ll not recognise the place:-}    Sadly, that will all have to wait.  I’m reliant on LP for all the heavy work and shifting of bulk supplies.  He’s poorly and we don’t know when he’ll be able to come back.

*  a decision has had to be made - the bark chip is rotting down far too fast and replacing it every couple of years is just too much work.  It looks like we'll be trying stones.  Oh goody, tons of stones to move . . . 

Thursday, 12 March 2015


It has rained this week.  Monday afternoon, most of Tuesday, and Thursday surpassed itself - 2½" in one day according to a neighbour who keeps detailed records.  Yes - TWO and one HALF of an inch, that's 63.5mm for post-decimalisation young people.

We need a drainage solution . . .

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Collective noun?

Is there a collective noun for a ludicrous number of frogs?  I think we've cornered the market in frogs and frog spawn this Spring.  All three ponds have significant clumps which has been added to by an elderly neighbour who recently moved from her large house to a smaller place in Cockermouth.  She wants to fill in the tiny pond in her new garden and asked me if I'd do a rescue and relocation.

Every night for the last week Daisy and I have (unintentionally) disturbed large numbers of frogs when we've gone out in the evenings.  One night I counted over 30 in just the Top Pond and there were nearly the same number in the Big Pond.  Impossible to photograph in the dark, but during this morning's rain we saw a few stragglers.  I wish I'd thought to take some video and see if I could record the 'frog chorus' that could be heard if I managed to creep up without disturbing them.

I wanted to create a wildlife garden - looks like the amphibians are happy with construction so far :-}

Friday, 6 March 2015

Lots of little things

Well, that's a rubbish post title if ever I saw one, there is no such thing as a "little thing" in this garden however, by Bag End standards this week a few smallish jobs have been ticked off the list.

Last year I must have moved some soil from an area full of seed because one section of one raised vegetable bed had grown a large crop of self-sown Ox-Eye Daisy and Self Heal.  It took two afternoons but I removed all of them and they're in pots and trays waiting to be relocated.  There's about twice as much as in these pictures.

LP was only here for one day because the weather hasn't been co-operative but he spent most of it on 'old, half-rotted bark chip removal'.  He's cleared the nursery area, and a very wet section leading to the Cottage Garden.  All that nearly composted goodness has to go somewhere so we've mulched the vegetable beds (which is why I'd finally got off my bottom and moved the volunteer plants :-} ) .  

He also boosted the edging on a small bed (which is going to be known as the Topiary Bed) and cleared off the most rotted section of path near the Big Pond, putting the old stuff on the Topiary Bed and at the end of the lawn where I'm trying to build up the ground.  Somewhere in the blog-lag I may have missed the planting of three yews, originally found as self-sown plants, which are destined for significant shaping and silliness! 

As the tree surgeon we used last year has disappeared off the face of the earth (a normal West Cumbrian phenomena) it's taken a while to track down an alternative supply of bark chip.  This stuff is not going to last long before it too rots away to compost - it may be time for a significant rethink about our paths.

The tree stump which LP took out of the vegetable patch plus some discs of leylandii which had started to rot have found a new home near the Big Pond.

Finally, I planted ivy at the bottom of every upright on the New Garden fence.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

And ‘sow’ it begins

In truth ‘it’ began on Friday when I sowed a couple of short rows of carrots and the same of parsnip but today was the first session in the greenhouse with seed packets.  Happy day :-}

I've redone the vegetable bed planting plan and suspect that latent OCD has finally broken through to the surface! Should I be worried that I'm so pleased to see pretty coloured labels all neatly laid out?  In reality this plan might not survive, Mother Nature and the plants themselves are sure to have other ideas.

In 2011 and 2012 I tried hard to plant and transplant according to the Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar.  I did not keep accurate records or grow plants in a non-biodynamic way as a control, but I KNOW just by looking, feeling and experience that the plants raised this way were stronger and better. This year I am going to try much harder to stick to the calendar.  In truth, following this regime can be a pain if, for example, the calendar says sow root veg on Tuesday next week but you want to do it this Saturday . . . but with electric in the greenhouse this year I can always toddle out there in the evenings if there isn't time during the day.  I think it's worth it and surely if sowing at the "right time" gives better plants and tastier crops for no extra money or effort, then why wouldn't you?  A few years ago I visited the Garden Organic grounds at Ryton.  The one section which stuck in my mind more than anywhere else was the Biodynamic Garden.  This area had an energy that was different from anywhere else on the site, it was an experience that's difficult to describe but I can recommend a visit.

There was a long and messy evening with seed packets and sheets of coloured labels all over the sitting room floor which has led to everything being categorised either Fruit, Flower, Root or Leaf.

So I've got one plan showing me WHERE and another set of guidelines telling me WHAT and WHEN.  And I can think of at least one person who I know reads the blog but never comments who will be thinking "she's finally admitted in public that she is absolutely bonkers" but I don't really care, (ya, boo, sucks and all that).

Today was a Flower day, so half a dozen trays of seeds, plus 20 Gladioli bulbs.  I like to start bulbs in pots and plant them out once I know they're growing strongly.  I reckon they have a better chance against the mice this way.