Tuesday, 31 March 2009

No shortcuts

Sometimes there are no shortcuts, just the best part of a day sitting on the ground removing thick, heavy, wet clay soil about half a trowel at a time. To put this into perspective, I seriously considered moving logs all day because it would have been easier.

A small axe, secateurs and a pair of loppers were added to the arsenal today and finger-sized roots removed to give access to some of the larger ones. As Sewali pointed out yesterday, at least I have one vegetable bed that won't need rotavating to break up the soil at the bottom!

There are much worse ways to spend a day;

I was outside with a view of the fells and the Assistant Gardener eventually bothered to get up and spent the afternoon sitting keeping an eye on proceedings and barking at passing vehicles.

How can sitting down with a trowel all day HURT so much? I've already demolished a bottle of Grolsch, now a long soak in the bath beckons.

The long timber (which will be an edge of a raised bed) is propped into position to remind me WHY I am doing this.

Monday, 30 March 2009

This is going to be a long, horrid, slog

What I REALLY wanted to do today was make a start on building the raised vegetable beds but it rained much of the night and was cold and blustery. Not good weather for carpentry, but dry enough for a bit more demolition and destruction.

We have three large cherry stumps to be removed from the front lawn and one of them is right in the way of the vegetable plans so it is the first to be targeted.

Digging around the roots was hard work and horrid. First, a thick almost impenetrable mass of thatch and build-up around the stump to get through, but once that was out of the way it was impossible to use the spade - the roots are so thick and close to the surface that all excavation had to be done with a hand trowel. Slow, hard work on wet clay soil.

This took 2 hours and wasn't pleasant at all. I'd really like to make significant progress on this so that when Management is available at the weekend we stand half a chance of removing the blasted thing. We may have nice high pressure forecast for most of this week but at present I wouldn't bet on my chances of getting as much done as I would like.

After, hole is about 4 foot wide and not nearly deep enough

Perhaps I'll just go "s*d it" and do the vegetable beds instead {grin}

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Timber Delivery

This would have been a whole lot harder without a remote-controlled crane arm and a very helpful delivery man who positioned his lorry so that the whole load could be lifted over the hedge and straight into the veggie plot.

I was expecting the delivery to end up on the driveway and then spend the next goodness-knows-how-many-days shifting over 700kg of timber up 8 steep steps.

Yes, I've over-ordered - but at the price I was quoted it made sense to buy as much as I could squeeze onto the credit card.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Veggie Plot Design Number - I've lost count

Starting to mark out the beds in our veggie plot didn't get finished last week for two reasons.

The first was that Hairy Canine One got very confused as to why all these bits of string had suddenly materialised and were RIGHT IN HIS WAY. The second reason was that it took me about 10 minutes to realise the plan Was Not Going To Work.

I said that even in a garden as big as Beg End some compromises would have to be made but once I'd measured out a 2 foot wide path on the ground it was obvious was a compromise I was not prepared to make. The 24" bed between the Nectar Bar and the beech hedge felt mean and nasty and I knew I'd never enjoy walking along it. That would mean I'd not use it and necessary weeding and tending would suffer.

Of course, it makes total sense to redesign the plot AFTER the wood has been ordered . . .

An enforced rest whilst I got over some silly bug gave time for much more Blue Peter-style messing around with coloured pens and squared paper, but we're now back to this:

Finally dawned on me that I only need a protective hedge on two sides, one already exists (roadside Escallonia) and the other can be OUTSIDE the fence, not in the actual vegetable area. For the time being the conifers in the bed next to the driveway will provide shelter and when we're ready to rip them out I can put the beech hedge in.

A super conversation with Mrs Flummery confirmed that some of my construction ideas are not as balmy as I feared and a call from the wood place advises all the timber is due to be delivered Friday morning. Better get a hurry on and order the screws!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Catching up on Quilting

I used to quilt or piece for hours at a time, but that was in a different life when we did not have a huge garden to work on (and I am LOVING working on the garden so much it really doesn't matter). I am now doing my piecing in snatched half hours here and there and that is OK, but different, and I'm still getting used to it. Whereas I used to be able to piece a large quilt top in a week, progress is now much slower but eventually, progress is made.

The St Louis Log Cabin top is now finished (82" x 82"). The plan was always to put a fairly narrow "stop border" in red around the blocks and then finish off with a Piano Keys border. Trouble is, when I auditioned that plan against the whole top it looked just wrong, and although I thought I had sufficient scraps to make a pieced border, I did not have nearly enough AND I was three-quarters of the way through piecing them when I realised I was running out of fabric.. .

There was much cogitating and the brains of all my clever quilting friends were thoroughly picked and the consensus was that the top is finished as it is, just needs quilting and binding in red. It would be easy to finish it quick with a panto but I have a hankering for cross-hatching and feathers. That will need a good block of time devoted to it, no idea when I will feel like doing that so the top will wait . . . patiently! And the change of plan means I have a lot of pieced sections waiting to be used and they've been muttering to me about becoming another Chinese Coins strippy.

The Moda Chocolat lap quilt top is finally finished (72" x 72"), this one has taken years. It started when a friend gave me a charm pack of 50 5" squares (one from each fabric in the range) as a present. I immediately bought some yardage from the same range but then we started on the relocation plan so it got packaged up with everything else. When we came to Bag End I needed a "no brainer" piecing project to get me back to the sewing machine. The blocks didn't take long and it was fun to play with different settings until I settled on this one.

Once again however, I wanted a red "stop border" and it took me months to find a Moda fabric which read as solid. I've never made a top before from just one range of fabric and didn't want to add something else. Got some ludicrously ambitious plans for quilting this, lots of feathers and flouncy bits, don't hold your breath . . . It has a pieced backing (75" x 85") of leftover yardage.

Apart from NOT buying fabric at present, one of my current Quilting Resolutions is to use all of my FQs. Never going to admit publicly how many I have, (although dearest J. in St Louis knows), but it is way, way too many and a frightening amount when converted into yardage. Many of them are very, very old and I don't particularly love them anymore so am going to make a lot of pieced backings. I love piecing quilt backs and this one came together during a very wet January week (70" x 80"). Trouble is, I tend to like them so much they are in great danger of becoming the quilt top . . .

There has been some messing around with Merlin. Most of it is practise, practise, practise. It has been nearly two years since I quilted seriously and regularly and I am very, very rusty. In some areas I need to go right back to basics. Sure I can turn out a pantograph without any trouble (I bl**dy hope so!) but freehand feathers are looking very much like a bad moult and ruler work is shaky. Given that I love feathers and ruler work most of all, guess I'd better get practising.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Build a better mousetrap?

Someone has finally produced a mousetrap that works.

Bought two "Big Cheese" traps yesterday and although they come pre-baited, I added peanut butter. this morning, one of them was empty but the other contained THREE furry little rodents. No picture because although I don't want them in the house, neither do I wish to stress them more than necessary. They have been driven 1½ miles outside the village and released into a field hedgerow.

Although it was bloody irritating to find mouse poo in the same cupboard this morning, it was very satisfying that no food had been nibbled - putting everything in plastic tubs did the trick! Once I've cleaned up again the traps will be re-baited and left out.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Muck and Muscle

Tarpaulins left in place for further loads - optimistic, that's me!
It's done . . . thanks to much help from Husband on Sunday morning every bit of a trailer-load of cow muck is now in position behind the front wall. Great feeling to have finally created something after twelve months of destruction. The bed cannot be planted in until the manure has rotted down, and we want to add topsoil and buy in some earthworms but at least we've made a start. The bed is 100 foot long and we've filled to a depth of between 6" and 12"(ground wasn't level to start with) and 24" back. Can't be bothered to do the maths but it's a lot!

Looking one way

and looking the other!
I am beyond tired - I expected to be stiff and achy today but surprisingly, the back and arms don't hurt as much as I expected. I'm just deep-down bone tired, even my brain has gone to mush.
Two of the cherry suckers, not things of beauty

Accomplished very little today, apart from washing inside a kitchen cupboard with bleach, washing everything from the cupboard, and buying new mouse traps - there's enough food and shelter in the garden for the furry little sods, wish they'd stay outside. Never thought I'd say this but am really looking forward to the forecasted spell of wet weather - enforced rest and no feeling guilty about not moving logs.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

I must be mad, quite, quite mad

Absolutely exhausted and therefore uncharacteristically brief - shifted about half that pile today, Management reckons I moved around 1 ton of manure! He helped a bit in the morning and was then given time off for good behaviour and took his bike out, he's working a 50+ hour week at present and I reckon he deserved to go out to play.

Apart from a small section of surprisingly fresh bedding straw, most of the pile is relatively dry (as opposed to horrid sludgy cow poo) and already partly broken down, smells really lovely and not unpleasant to handle (OK, I had gloves on!)

Am moving it all to the area in front of the Escallonia hedge. Himself helped remove the remaining half dozen large cherry suckers this morning and then we started shovelling sh*t! The bed is about 100 foot long, I'm going back around 2 feet from the wall and aiming for as deep as possible - basically we'll stop when the pile is gone. I've had a wonderful day but sheesh, I'm tired . . .

Brown Hare

A brief glimpse this morning from the study window of a huge brown hare foraging in the field across the lane. After the sadness last year of seeing our young hare killed on the road, I didn't know if we'd see more. More reasons to be glad we've got rid of all the damn Leylandii because previously the view to this field was completely blocked.

Another beautiful sight is the gently steaming pile of cow poo on the driveway - quite a contrast to the frost on our cars. Looks like it is going to be another bright but hazy day.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Spring Equinox

When I was a kid I remember adults saying "time goes faster when you are grown up". At the time I thought "what a load of b*ll*cks" but now I am not so sure. How come we are three-quarters through March, where is the year going?

I know where this week has gone - nearly all of it in the garden thanks to a wonderfully warm, dry spell. Decided to carry on where I left off last night and tried to finish clearing up the front bed. Managed everything except half a dozen large (4" - 6") cherry suckers which were too firmly rooted, Management has agreed to come and help tomorrow morning.

Dug up over 20 ferns which, when the hedge was 10 feet tall and half over the pathway, lived in shade. Now the Escallonia is cut back they'll bake in the sunshine and not do well at all. Potted them up very roughly and after a thorough watering have set the pots into the shrubbery behind the house where they'll hopefully get enough shade until I find a permanent home for them.

Fortunate I moved them this morning because at lunchtime our first load of wonderful cow poo turned up! Very impressed with the reversing skill of young man and tractor, and now have a huge pile neatly in the middle of the tarpaulin. Once the cherry suckers are removed, we're going to move much of the cow manure plus the contents of the compost bin and fill the huge area between the wall and the Escallonia roots in "lasagne gardening" style - and then just leave the weather and worms do break it all down.

It will be interesting to see how the volume of the muck pile translates into filling a long border and will give us an idea of how many more trailer-loads we have to beg for to fill up the vegetable beds.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Messy Day

A nice start to the day - a pretty Small Tortoiseshell.
A messy day with lots of messing around. It feels like I didn't accomplish much and that I flitted around a bit like the pretty Tortoiseshell. After assembling the new Mantis Tiller yesterday, it went outside today for it's first attempt to break up the soil which will be our new beds.

It will never look this clean again!

I have wanted one for years but never had a garden large enough to justify it.

There is definitely a technique to using Matilda, and I haven't quite worked out exactly what that is! I'm sure trying to break through matted grass and about 3" of thatch didn't help so I will wait to do more - not sure how long the Glyphosate will take to kill off the grass but I have plenty more to keep me occupied until that happens.

For a first attempt, this actually went quite well. It would have taken me much, much longer to get to this stage with a fork.

I kept reminding myself that I am only aiming to break up the soil at the bottom of the beds.

Then the other new not-a-toy, a petrol lawnmower with a nice powerful Briggs & Stratton engine. I'm sure there are techniques for using this too. Annoyingly it has a 'dead man's handle' which I accept is an important safety feature. It is also a bloody irritation because every time you let go of the handle to empty the collecting box the engine cuts out, there will be modifications made which would horrify a Health & Safety person, but tough. I tried to "scalp" the vegetable area to (theoretically) make it easier when we come to cultivate the beds but there is so much thatch built up that I didn't get very far. The mower comes with lots of splendid attachments and extras, including a Scarifying Kit, but there is not much point using it on an area that is about to be "de-lawned".

It's a bit worrying when we think of this as the "little mower" because eventually we'll need a full-size ride-on.
The mower will pay for itself by the end of the summer given how much it was costing us to have the grass cut last year.

When I'd had enough of mowing I had the "bright idea" to mark out with sticks and string where the new beds will go. The Assistant Gardener, who had watched proceedings up to this point with an experienced eye, and not moved an inch, decided now was a good time to wander around seeing what Mummy was doing. Assistant Gardener's eyesight is not as good as it used to be and he kept walking into the strings. Maybe I won't do that after all . . .

Assistant Gardener (in need of a good brushing) keeping a close eye on proceedings

Finally spent half an hour clambering around in the front bed next to the Escallonia hedge which I never finished clearing out last summer. Pulled out another four large cherry suckers and a lot more ivy, and dug out a load of huge stones. I think "once upon a time" someone was attempting to make a rockery-type feature at the front. I was piling the stones on the wall just to keep them out of the way when a neighbour walked past and stopped for a chat. End result was that she brought her car back 10 minutes later and took all the stones away for HER rockery. Still leaves me with a few broken bricks and lumps of concrete to get rid of but I think she took 75% of it, bless her. Gives me motivation to haul out more large stones tomorrow knowing they'll be gone by tea-time!

Despite working in full sunshine all day the fells were barely visible under a heavy haze.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Not an environmentally friendly day

Despite arrival of delicious new toys, powerful and essential gardening tools this morning, today was dirty, smelly and environmentally unfriendly.

A coat of creosote on all the fencing which surrounds the Veg-Plot-To-Be and then an application of Glyphosate weedkiller on the grass which is about to be dug up in preparation for the Beech Hedge which will form a major part of the windbreak protection for the veggies.
(boards are temporary to give me an edge to spray to)

and the magnolia prunings got chopped up small and put in the council bin to be taken away and composted.

All day I have watched the chap from the farm at the top of our village go back and forwards with HUGE trailer loads of gorgeous, steaming muck that has come out of the cow sheds and is being spread on fields further up the valley (actually been watching this happen for a year, but it was more noticeable today 'cos I was outside!)

Finally plucked up the courage to go to the bottom of the drive and wave at him to stop, and to cut a long conversation short, I can probably have as many TRAILER LOADS of the lovely smelly stuff dropped on the drive as I like, no charge (think I'd better add a bottle of good Scotch to the shopping trolley at the weekend). Yes, there is a danger that the bedding straw was grown with aminopyralid (go on, Google it) but as I am in no hurry to use the beds for vegetables it's possible that by the time I come to plant in the soil it will be OK.

I have no idea when/if the first trailer will arrive so the tarp is out in readiness. A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to someone and mentioned I was looking for a scaffolding clamp (been messing around with the quilting machine, nothing to do with gardening). Anyhow, didn't think any more of it until I came home one afternoon and on the doorstep was . . . a scaffolding clamp. Don't know the chap's name, cannot get in touch with him to say thank you, typical West Cumbrian kindness - so on that basis the manure could arrive anytime.

Tuesday diary

Early trip to Appleby because our vet asked to change Ollie's acupuncture appointment to 11.30 (or earlier if the roads were clear, which they were).

Keswick on way home to drop off one of the chainsaw chains for sharpening.
Stop at the top of Gale Road to give Himself a walk. Went to Whit Beck and back without stumbling or seeming too tired and had a lovely paddle and shout in the beck, although once we were home he went into a solid sleep from which he appears to have no intention of returning!

Gardening: Put up most of the bird boxes, now got 11 up and one more looking for a home. Cleared logs, dried leaves and general rubbish from plinth at back of house. Getting the knack of the Pole Pruner and took a bit more off the Magnolia, it's a bit late to be doing this but as with all things in the garden - it's got two choices! Given how my back feels this morning, this may not have been a terribly good idea.

Took turf off vegetable area in three places to see what the soil was like - surprisingly good! At least one spit deep, not full of stones. Either I found a builders' dumping ground or someone has tried to improve the clay soil at some point with a load of sand . . .

and a nice surprise, finding this pretty clump of daffodils and crocus tucked out of sight behind a log pile.

Monday, 16 March 2009

What a difference a day makes

Sunday was one of those fabulous Spring days, warm, sunny, fresh breeze - an absolute joy to be outside so of course I was in the garden, with very few breaks, from 9.30 until 5.30. Management came and helped when he could, but he had work to do.

At the beginning of the day there were still logs all over the place and long matted grass where the pond will one day be.

At the end of the day:

I'd moved all the logs which Neil brought from the other end of the garden

(before: top left)
Management moved most of a HUMUNGOUS pile left when the last trees were felled

and between us we added considerably to the two huge log piles.

All the grass is mowed

With the aid of the Big A** Pole Pruner a few more bits of Cotoneaster have been cut down. With the agreement of our neighbour, we're leaving much of this for the time being because it gives him privacy at a bedroom window.

And a complete pile of logs has been removed by a friend as "payment" for a couple of hours of professional advice. He thinks he's got a bargain - we think we got a brilliant deal, a perfect trade - everyone is happy, no-one feels they got the raw end of a deal and in truth, we can barely see the difference these logs have made even though it filled his car to the point where we were all worrying about the suspension . . .

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Great Minds Think Alike!

Plot Design Number One Hundred and Eleventy Seven

In the long dark reaches of the night, or sometime after midnight when I couldn't sleep, I got to this:

Even in a garden as large as Bag End compromises have to be made. By reducing the footpaths either side of the Nectar Bar down to 2 feet I can fit in 8 beds and keep 3 foot wide paths between them. This orientation also makes sense because I will (should) be working with the slope rather than fighting it to get the long sides level.

Imagine the surprise when I received a message from Hazel this morning with the following attachment:

I LOVE synchronicity like this, there's no such thing as co-incidence, just things that are MEANT to be. Thanks Hazel, you're a star!

Think I am going to get a nasty shock when I ask Patersons how much all this wood is going to cost . . .


The hanging peanut feeder was popular at 7.15 on Sunday morning.

Anyone else think that Scarface is a boy?