Sunday, 10 June 2018

Huge, huge achievement

We have had a big, horrible, unpleasant job outstanding for far too long.  For a timescale measured in years but I cannot find a blog reference to it (something else that got missed ... {glum face} )

Almost too long ago to be remembered, this patch of ground was fairly neat and tidy.  But when LP was levelling the ground around the raised veg beds we needed somewhere for the excess soil to go and there just wasn't anywhere else for it.  Then, as has been the case far too often here, everything else got in the way and as the "heap" wasn't actually doing anything it got left, and left, and left .... and then LP left for a new life the other side of the country and neither Management or I fancied tackling it.

But this morning Management suggested we just get on with it, so we did!  And of course, whilst it was a long and hot day, shifting the entire pile wasn't nearly as awful as either of us thought it would be.  We were as sensible as possible with a rule of filling no more than 3 or 4 barrows, then going to sit in the shade to cool down before doing any more.  In that way, we were finished by supper-time:

It's amazing, this is the last big garden task - anything else is now "just" gardening.  Strewth - only took us ten years!

Talking of big, we wondered how much weight Management had shifted.  For a laugh I climbed in the empty barrow and M. tried out the weight and said a full barrow of soil weighed more than me.  I reckon we must have shifted 50 barrows or more but neither of us thought to count.  I'm about 55kg , so maybe  2¾ metric tons.  Thank goodness it has not rained for 6 weeks and we weren't shifting water as well as soil!

Friday, 8 June 2018

A slight change of plan

I knew exactly what I was going to do today - cut the grass, plant out runner beans and lettuce, sow seeds such as peas, Cavelo Nero and the like.  Stupid me - we ALL know that PLAN is a four letter word which is really spelt    F - A - I - L.

It was the early morning phone call from our tree surgeon which did it:  “I’m back at work now, got a full load of shredded leylandii, I can be with you in 20 minutes”.  He’s had a couple of months off work dealing with first a bereavement and then becoming a Dad, and this is his first job since the break, no way I was going to say “no”.  He knew I was waiting for the first available load of material and made an effort to bring it to us when he could have dropped it nearer the job he was doing.  So my plan to work gently in the net-house was shot to ***** and out came the tractor and trailer.

Before we could start to move it all there was clearing out self-seeded plants from the big raised bed at the back of the house. Then there was moving this:

to here:

Being sensible folk we stopped for lunch, during which Simon turned up again so the pile doubled in size:

Damn.  I had hoped to move some of the first load before the second turned up!   Never mind, at just the cost of “petrol money",  this material is virtually free and makes such a tremendous difference to the garden.  Daisy just looks on in disgust . . . "stupid hoomans, why don't they spend the afternoon laying somewhere cool and shady?"   She has a point . . .

Management and I had a busy afternoon:  I filled large tubs and moved them with the tractor.  He filled the wheelbarrow and started to put some of the material in our now empty compost bay.

We made sure to stop by 6.00pm, but a huge amount had been achieved.   The daffodil bed outside the garden has had a very thick mulch and looks much tidier.

Whilst I’m out the front: the Clematis Montana (this is ‘Broughton Star”) has been spectacular this year, now past its best but still looks gorgeous tumbling over the laurel hedge.

I made an Executive Decision about the large raised bed and covered it.  Completely.

The black membrane is so that the blackbirds do not treat it as a new adventure playground and the neighbours’ cats do not use it as a toilet.  Those panels aren't pretty but I can exchange them for wooden battens.  The theme for this year is mean to be “consolidation” - confirming and maintaining all the lovely parts of the garden which we have completed and not starting anything new.  So I made the decision not to plant up all 7 metres of this bed with more vegetables that will need watering and constant attention.  Partly the ‘consolidation’ thing, and partly because I want to be away in the campervan or caravan and not be here watering plants all the time!

In the same vein I have employed “cheating gardening” in a couple of beds in the Cottage Garden.  They really need a bit of digging, weeding and replanting.  Instead they have had a very thick mulch which will suppress most of the weeds and rot down nicely.  Next Spring I can think about what gets planted for the future.

And by the time we stopped and put the vehicles back where they belong:

We're probably back to the equivalent of one load.  There will now be a short break whilst we recover!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Cutting up and cutting down

A busy day, we didn't mean to go outside and work hard all day but sometimes, that's what happens!

Management has been cutting up some of the sheets of weld-mesh for me.  Last year we man/woman-handled an entire 8' x 12' sheet into the net-house to support the runner beans (which were completely eaten by slugs) and it was an absolute pain.  So he set to and cut down the panels into manageable size which I can lift on my own.

Whilst we had cutting gear available he also cut down a couple of sheets into even smaller panels which are going to be really useful for peas and lots of other things.  With a couple of cable ties they can make little tent structures that will be quite stable, or I could use them singly propped up with a couple of stakes.

After a morning of cutting things up, we had an afternoon of cutting things down.  This holly in the Coppice was in a dreadful state; hard to photograph but for the past 2 or 3 years has constantly been shedding leaves and generally looking very unhappy.  We didn't plant it, but left it during the refurbishment with the attitude "if it survives, great - if it doesn't, shrugs shoulders".  Out came the pole pruner and an hour or so later we had a massive pile to be shredded.

When we next have the chainsaw out the rest of the trunks can come down.

Whilst the tools were out (there's a theme here!) we also trimmed a broken silver birch branch that had been damaged over winter, and made the snap decision to remove another holly which had been left in place "to see what happened".  Next to the greenhouse it wasn't doing anything particularly useful but like the Coppice tree it was unhappy and constantly shedding leaves all over the place.  It is gone!  I'm not going to disturb this little bed by digging out the root, if it re-sprouts I might let it grow, might not, but that decision does not have to be made any time soon.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Desperate times need desperate measures

My inability to grow asparagus has been one of the most thoroughly depressing things about gardening here.  In the early "potager' days I planted asparagus in one bed, but after a particularly wet and disgusting winter the whole lot rotted in its first year.  Subsequent plantings in the big net house yielded a tantalising few tasty spears in year two (2016) which were treasured and savoured but nothing last year, and nothing this.

A third attempt was planted in the small cage by the greenhouse and appeared to grow very little last year when it should have been getting established and has done b*gger all this season.  All very depressing - a significant amount of time and money invested and nothing to eat.  Clearly I cannot grow asparagus, despite being told repeatedly that it is easy, and bomb proof and "a tough do-er".

But all is not completely lost - a well-timed inspection one morning revealed a whole ONE INCH tall juicy spear putting in an appearance - so the plants are not completely dead.  A few hours later I went back to check and there was nothing - nadda, zero, zilch.  Given that there's nothing in horticulture known to have a Cloak of Invisibility I pulled back some soil and found the sad remains of my juicy, succulent plant - with the unmistakable marks of slug teeth.   S'cuse the language:  f*ckin' little sods.

Clearly I can grow asparagus, just not as fast as the bloody slugs can eat it.  And eat they will - this year has been awful.  Two trays of leeks completely vanished yesterday.  A new Clematis montana stripped of every scrap of green, and much more devastation besides.  Last season every single runner bean and pea plant was destroyed, and the damage they did to our strawberry crop had me sitting in tears, wondering why the heck I bothered . . . Three years running I have lost every single Globe Artichoke plant . . .

I've tried nematodes - that was an expensive waste of money which appeared to do nothing.  I've tried the night-time prowl with torch and bucket of salty water, but in a garden this size it's an impossible task. We don't want chickens - they would eat slugs, and everything else that's small and juicy (salad leaves, asparagus spears . . . )  I've tried "safe and organic" slug pellets but they are clearly "safe" for slugs because I've not found anything which works, and beer traps are fine in principle but in practice this garden is too big for them to be maintained effectively.   The traditional blue pellets (which do work) have been banned from my garden for as long as I can remember - far too risky with Ollie and Daisy around, and far too lethal for the wildlife we share our space with.  This year a Mistle Thrush has raised two chicks in the laurel hedge and they're clearing through snails at a remarkable rate if the empty shells are anything to go by - I absolutely cannot put poison into that food chain.

But I had a small epiphany and thanks to Mr Amazon, yesterday a much needed weapon arrived:

Yes, lethal blue slug pellets which I refused to use.  Because it has finally dawned on my small brain that whilst I cannot and never would spread these where dogs and birds could be affected, in the confines of the fruit cage and net-house from which winged creatures are banned I can poison the blasted gastropod molluscs which are intent on ravaging my crops.

Fingers crossed this makes a difference;  there will be no eating of asparagus for me this year, even if the pellets do work the plants are not strong enough to have any growth removed.  Guess that's my organic credentials completely shot to hell.  First Roundup to try and control the Ground Elder, and now Metaldehyde, but sadly, I can't think of any other way I'm going to beat the slugs . . .

It is disappointing to be going down this path, and whilst I'm never going to produce like Charles Dowding, I would like a few salad crops in the summer, and a couple of delicious luxuries.

Damage on a struggling asparagus stalk:

This morning you don't want to see photos.  Heck, I don't want to see photos . . . the scene of slaughter in the net-house is not suitable for pre-9.00pm watershed.  The size of some of the dead slugs is both foul and wonderful:  foul because, however much I try to appreciate all creatures, slugs are disgusting things, and wonderful because some of the dead are really big buggers.  When I get back from shopping this morning I plan to plant out lettuce and runner beans, and want to sow peas directly into the soil.  Having seen what's living in these beds waiting to eat soft and juicy leaves, there is absolutely no way any of these plants would survive without help

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

It has taken weeks to get this photo . . .

We are well; excluding mother-in-law's broken hip (from which she is recovering extremely rapidly) we are all very well and have for the most part been absolutely loving the recent weather.

It has barely rained here for over a month and I can finally no longer complain that the weather stops me from getting into the garden.  If I were to complain about anything right now (surely not, ha ha?) it would be that I need a couple of rain days inside to catch up on housework and cleaning (and the water butts are getting low, thank crunchy for 4,000 litres in IBC tanks!)  Since I last blogged there has been a humungous amount of outdoor activity - furniture painting, house painting, general gardening, all lovely stuff which I must document at some point before I forget it all.

Daisy has been enjoying our tremendous Spring.  We seem to have her Apoquel dose right and she's not itching and scratching despite being in the garden a lot.  When she's not in the garden she curls up in her soft crate next to my desk, or takes herself out onto the balcony.  Every morning I pop a old carpet/mat thingy outside where it warms up in the sun and if I cannot see Daisy indoors, she's probably laying in the sun, observing birds and passing cars.  It has been a devil's job to get a picture of her relaxing like this.  She has a 6th sense and as soon as I creep to the patio door with a camera in hand, she turns round to look at me.

But I got her this morning, finally!

There were more photos - the ones taken seconds later when she turned round and I get that 'look' reminiscent of a supercilious teenager saying "Mum, REALLY, do you have to?"  The only thing she's not doing is rolling her eyes before she strops off 🙂