Sunday, 31 May 2009

That's quite enough for one day!

Hottest day of the year so far therefore Hobbit spends much of it in full sun - digging!

By lunchtime I had nearly half the second raised bed dug out. Matted grass roots are still a problem but SewAli and Hazel are right in that each time I do this it will get easier.

By 4.30ish I had all the loose soil moved but it was too hot and I was waaaay too tired to clear out the remaining cherry roots and do any more.

The first bed has been covered to try and retain moisture in the soil. Looking forward to the forecasted rain midweek, want to get this soil compacted down and thoroughly wet so I can start planting.

Management didn't help with the digging - he deals with fierce heat about as well as I deal with lack of sleep but in between motorcycle races on TV (what would he do without Europsport?) he washed down more gutter and algae covered wall at the end of the house. How come you don't realise how filthy something is until you clean it? Pleasantly surprised to find that the paintwork is in very good condition.


I dug out this favourite bit of digital-movie last night, taken at Blea Tarn (Langdale) in September 2006. Ollie no longer has the strength to swim like this but remembering just how much pleasure he had (all those strange noises on the film are his grunts of pleasure!) I think Management and I might have to have a drive to somewhere with easily accessible water.

First however, we need to sort his medication out. Despite upping his PLT to the full dose (4 tablets per day), neither of us are convinced that it is making him feel any better than the Metacam did. It was hard to watch him yesterday trying to work out how on earth to lay down without it hurting on the way, and he had at least 4 "stabs" of pain from either his left hip or lower back, we're not sure which. Returning to vet tomorrow afternoon for a review. Am wondering if we go back to Metacam but increase the dose to above body weight (which is an option, even though it sounds like an overdose it wouldn't be).

Predictably the steroid component of PLT has given him increased appetite and thirst. Trouble is, he's not being more active to burn off the additional food and he's not wanting to get up more so we're concerned there will be some "accidents" as a result of the extra drinking. Roll on 2.40pm tomorrow when I can talk to Clare about this.

I'd love to see him do this again, even if it is just one last time.

Grasmere in May 2007 when we were on a "location hunting" visit prior to our move. There is also some great silent movie - because it was a new camera and I hadn't realised that you needed to turn the sound ON .... grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Saturday, 30th May

Not a cloud in the sky, nor breath of wind.

Raised Bed #1

It's not perfect, and it is not completely finished (finials, wood preservative) but it IS full of soil and after a good soaking, ready to be planted up.

The original plan was to fill bed #1 with soil from #2 in order to reduce the number of times I handle each ton of soil (and fill #2 from the third and so on (when will I learn - plan is turning out to be a four-letter word). Saturday however, had different ideas. It was hot, very very HOT, not a breath of wind nor cloud in the sky and sitting on the ground between two beds, moving soil bit by bit was not funny (or very effective).

Eventually Management arrived and suggested that we abandon the ** (insert four-letter word) and fill bed #1 with its own soil - at least that way I could see a result for all the recent work. Bless him, I shovelled soil and he raked it level and broke up small lumps. He also pushed the wheelbarrow up the steep slope from the drive as we added (in total) 8 loads of that gorgeous nearly completely rotted cow muck.

Lots of lessons learnt: ensure perimeter is nearly level BEFORE putting frame in place, don't get ahead of yourself and dig over the base of the bed until all the woodwork is done, one of the corner posts is wonky and going to drive me nuts until I straighten it (!) and probably lots more besides. Management was right - it is lovely to look out at a full raised bed, only another 7 that size to go plus the really long ones around the sides . . .

Friday, 29 May 2009

No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy

Helmuth von Moltke, Prussian general in the mid-19th century must also have been a gardener attempting to make raised beds to grow vegetables.

Plan A didn't work (that was the one where the long corner stakes are fixed to protrude 4" down as anchors)

Plan B wasn't looking too good either (that was the one where the boards were made into a frame using strong angle brackets and the long corner stakes were hammered in afterwards)

Plan C may well cause problems down the line, but at least it feels like I'm making progress!

The corner stakes which were going to stick up 12" now protrude 16". To help anchor the timber frames and try to prevent bowing, small larch stakes are going to be hammered into the soil on the inside of the frames and screwed into place afterwards, they won't show when the beds are full of soil. (The scrappy bits bracing the corners will be removed once the frames are level, fixed and I've stopped messing around!)

If John had not turned over the soil all this would be a lot simpler, BUT, I am only ever going to make these once [I hope!] so a few more hours isn't really the end of the world and I would never have dug the beds as thoroughly or as deeply if the soil had not already been broken up, and long-term that is going to pay dividends. Is this overkill? Yes, probably, but so what. Management and I intend this to be our 'forever house' and therefore we agreed at the outset that we wouldn't do anything in the house and garden unless we could do it properly, the theory being this way we might only have to do things once.

I don't want to have to replace the raised beds in a few years time. I've seen how quickly wood can rot up here, all that water may make the fields and fells look wonderful but it plays merry hell on timbers in the garden. The DPC might be unconventional but I've done similar in previous gardens and it makes a huge difference to the longevity of structures.

The extended uprights seemed logical to me putting in place permanent fixings for string, supports, protective netting and so on. A chat one afternoon with Mrs Flummery confirmed that whilst this wasn't something she'd seen done before, it did make total sense (and she has shorter sticks in the corner of her raised beds to stop the hosepipe smashing across young crops). Flum also had the great idea of putting finials on top of each post to stop the timber edges cutting through fleece and netting and Management had a brainwave - use cheap wooden doorknobs!

Of course, now I have grand plans for sewing perfectly sized fitted fleece covers for the beds - they won't be patchwork but if we get a really, really cold spell they might need to be quilted!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

John Seymour

Some while back, Hazel recommended this book:

Although I do not currently need to know how to milk a goat, slaughter a pig, or sythe my own wheat field, as Hazel said "it also covers the most important black arts of crop rotation and getting the most out of the space available…"

Management left orders that I was to "go online and order myself some birthday gifts", I did exactly that, it was definitely a "book birthday" - still working my way through the other two! This is a fascinating volume although I found the introduction somewhat depressing - written in 1976 John Seymour's comments on how we need to change the way we use the earth's resources are still so very relevant they could have been written yesterday.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Gardeners' World

" fatuous and glib; irrelevant to the average gardener; dire; clueless; trivial, patronising drivel; condescending" are just some of the comments I have read recently on various gardening forums and message boards. For the first time in my adult life I no longer sit down on a Friday night to watch "the nation's favourite gardener" strut his stuff (it's time we had a woman in charge - I think Carol Klein should have got the job!)

Last week, however, I stumbled upon some re-runs of Geoff Hamilton programmes on UKTV Gardens (a channel which has since ceased transmitting - d'uh???). I had forgotten what pure gold they are - I've always liked Monty, and Uncle Alan does have a certain "something" about him, but Geoff Hamilton is, I believe, still the best presenter that GW has ever been privileged to employ and his early death was an incalculable loss to horticulture.

Thanks to the wonders of technology however, I can now enjoy nearly ten hours of classic gardening whenever I want:

and given that we are back to "typical" summer weather today, Amazon couldn't have delivered a moment too soon!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

What happens when Bank Holiday Monday is warm, sunny and dry?

Well, what happens is that Hobbit and Management spend far too long outside (as usual) and end up completely cream-crackered at the end of the day. However, we're both rather happy about it because by not planning and just doing whatever we felt like tackling, we got a HUGE amount done.

Despite grumbling earlier in the week, mad Hobbit was creosoting the Coppice fence at 10.00am, Management had more sense and came out later, and together we removed soil from underneath another huge area of fence.

With regular stops for tea, cold drinks, food, admiring of the view, and what felt like numerous short outings with His Hairyness, I managed to finish painting ALL of the low section of back fence, ALL of the outside of the high Coppice fence, and the inside of the shorter Coppice section. Whooppee do! This leaves just one tall section of Coppice fence to protect and then I'm done with nasty, smelly creosote for some considerable time.

Whilst I was dealing with the fence, Management spend hours up a ladder cleaning out the horticultural experiment which was our back gutter. When you can see things sprouting you know it's time to have a major clearing session! He extracted three buckets of lovely crumbly stuff that has been added to the compost heap, scrubbed everything down, cleaned the soffits and barge boards and as the hose was to hand, got carried away and washed down the back wall of the house as well. What a star - and he even resisted the temptation to point the hose at me, but finished by scrubbing bird poo off the garden chairs.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

When you love somebody

The somebody in question being the Bearded Collie part of the family . . . gardening takes a back seat.

Although we live in a bungalow, it is not all on one level. Hairy One was finding the steps down into the sitting room increasingly difficult, thankfully we know a carpenter who loves dogs as much as we do. This is our "wheelchair ramp" and has had to be built strongly enough to withstand our going up and down it, not just the dog! It also had to be fairly robust because, being blunt, we don't know whether it will be used for 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years.

There is also a step out of the back door and our friends N & R have given us this wonderful heavy-duty and outdoor-proof ramp. It was originally bought to help their elderly Irish Wolfhound, sadly she is no longer with them and it's been sitting in the garage gathering cobwebs. I love living here, some folk are just so very, very nice. (It is not fixed and stands on it's side, nicely out of the way, when not in use)

Back to the garden - Sunday morning spent inserting a gate into the back fence in order that 4 legged member of the family can be taken directly out onto the grassed area for short walks. Himself and I rather pleased with our efforts seeing as carpentry is not one of our greater skills. Once it has been painted it will hardly show from the public side and in addition to being approved of by Canine One (who wandered through on his own accord and sat watching us work!), this makes it much easier to get to the other side of the fence for maintenance.

Then, as we were in "fence mode", Management and I worked together removing soil that had built up at the bottom of the fence. Managed the tall Coppice section and as far as the gate, hopefully will do the rest on Monday.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Is the stoat back?

Out of the corner of my eye I saw something run across the driveway, too big to be a mouse, I hoped it wasn't a rat. A few moments later it popped up on the path to the front door. Despite leaping outside with a camera I didn't manage to get any pictures as it went off towards the log piles at the side of the house. It's exactly a year ago since Husband saw a Stoat in the back garden.

However, a quick search online suggests this was a Weasel.

Does not bode well for the blackbird nest. I am sure Mrs Blackie is sitting on eggs, unfortunately they would make a delicious weekend snack for this vicious little mammal.

Rain stops play

A damp and dreich Friday morning meant that not much got done. When it brightened in the afternoon I made a start on the pile of timbers which will edge the beds. Unimpressed to find that the itsy bitsy tiny print on the builders' merchant Ts & Cs which says something about "nominal sizes" means that my boards that should be 96" long are somewhere between 94 and 95 inches. Grrr.

Spent much of the afternoon measuring every single board and moving them into size related piles. Ended up with 25 boards that are 95" long of which 8 have been cut into as near to exactly half as I can manage. At least this way the main beds will be of equal size.

Pleasantly interrupted when the wife of our local farmer (cow muck supplier extraordinaire) turned up for a coffee.

Saturday not looking much more productive. Cold, intermittent drizzle.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

WHAT was I thinking?

Basic gardening 101 - before you convert lawn into anything else, remove the turf. Stack it somewhere for a year or two and benefit from lovely crumbly loam.

So what the B***** H*** was I thinking when I didn't strip off the turf from the vegetable beds before John turned over the soil? Banging on about it isn't going to change the fact that not removing the mass of roots which used to be part of the front lawn is probably the biggest mistake I have made since coming to Bag End.

Trying to work through the turf has proved impossible. The rotivator cannot break it up - the root mass just gets wound around the tines and the neck. Trying to slice through with a (sharpened) spade was horrid - the spade comes to a sudden halt with as much force as hitting a brick. Digging it out should have been simple but remember this stuff has been turned around with a large and powerful digger. The turves are now laying up, down, sideways, partly buried. Mostly they are in huge lumps which are too heavy to move in one piece.

BY mid-morning I could have cheerfully burst into tears and thrown all the tools in the garage but I am known for being bloody-minded and persevering where sensible people go indoors and make another latte . . . Moving swiftly on past the self-pity and frustration of knowing I caused the problem in the first place, the only way forward was to get stuck in and move EVERYTHING.

By 2.00 I had the worst of the root mass out. Standing on cardboard helped keep the clay soil off my boots.

8 feet long, 4 feet wide, more than one spit deep - I don't think I want to know how much soil I moved.

No sooner was it empty, than I started to fill it up again (although I used Matilda first to break up the soil at the bottom where I'd been stamping around and compacting it). Two barrow loads of gorgeous cow muck from the big pile on the drive, then a layer of soil.

From one bed I evicted one bucket of cherry root, three buckets of stones (rather less than I expected) and four barrow loads of turf. This has been dumped at the end of the bed at the front of the garden (behind the long white wall). It's not a place I expect to get to for a couple of years at the soonest, so in theory, by the time I do want to plant there, this mess will have rotted into something rather lovely and usable.

And that is more than enough for one day! I have a plan for tomorrow that should result in slightly less soil handling . . .

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A little over half way - phew!

A morning break in the wind and rain allowed a couple of hours of fence painting.

No photos of "paint drying" but before the weather sent me inside again I managed to finish the outside face of the back fence - all 155 feet of it. Then I realised that a small section of the inside (behind the log store) has already been done so HURRAH - we're more than half way through protecting that long fence.

And I deliberately say "we" because I've made a unilateral decision that Management can have the pleasure of doing the rest . . . Of course, before he does I need to get out there with a spade and clear away soil from the bottom of the timber.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

More than I realised

After the gales and deluge of yesterday, today is bright, breezy, perfect gardening weather. Unfortunately, Head Gardener wasn't feeling quite as bright and had one of those messy, flitting from job-to-job days which left me feeling a bit flat at teatime thinking I had not accomplished much.

When I thought about whether to post at Bag End I realised that I had done loads . . . and I should probably make more effort to note all the small jobs which normally go unremarked.

So - mix lots of newspaper with the grass clippings from the weekend and turn half of the heap.

* dig up a bucketful of creeping buttercup and leave on top of the compost pile so the roots can get thoroughly dry and dead

* move three barrowloads of cherry root to where the next bonfire will be. This is a horrible pile to deal with; our friend J. is on holiday in Cumbria next week and knows that these dratted stumps are all his should he want to tackle something significant during his vacation!

I was supervised by Mr Hairy who observed proceedings from the shade of a log pile which is how I discovered a blackbird nest hidden between the logs.

plus finishing the laundry, putting away everything that is dry (instead of leaving the socks in a basket on the floor to be fallen over six times before I move it), iron all Management's business shirts, vacuum and drive Canine One to a nearby disused quarry that he likes to walk in. Not forgetting getting all emotional on seeing that Rae McNab, Val Donnelly, Margaret Archibald and Coralin Pearson, students at the Newton Rigg campus of Cumbria University had won a Silver Medal at Chelsea - many congratulations ladies, fabulous garden and a well deserved medal.

Maybe I did more than I realise?

Monday, 18 May 2009

Medication Decision

Loving an elderly, arthritic dog involves making some difficult decisions.

Up to now, Ollie has received a daily dose of Metacam, the vet equivalent to Ibuprofen and this has done a good job as anti-inflammatory and painkiller. It is, however, no longer enough. Ollie's mobility has decreased significantly, he is in obvious discomfort when sitting down and getting up, and his left elbow is permanently swollen and causes him to stumble when walking. Our medication decisions have always taken into consideration the long-term effect on his kidneys, liver, heart, etc., and we have erred on the side of caution not wanting to cause another illness whilst we treated the first.

Today I met with our vet, Clare, and we agreed it was time for bigger guns. We are going to try treating him with Predno-Leucotropin which appears to be a "semi-steroid". Clare doesn't want to move directly to steroids because of side effects, but she understands our desire to make Ollie as comfortable as possible. The less his joints hurt, the more he will want to take exercise. The more exercise he takes, the better his quality of life will be. I've got a 2 week supply of PLT with permission to double the prescribed dose in 4 days time if the initial quantity doesn't seem enough. Fingers crossed . . .

All this was very tiring - so when we got home he had to spend half an hour in the garden "taking the air" (which today is gusting at 25 mph!) and now we have had to go for a snooze to recover fully!

Sunday, 17 May 2009


This is definitely Hazel's fault, but Ange can share some of the blame if she likes.

Fence painting didn't happen today, I got sidetracked into mowing all the grass and by the time I had finished it was nearly 3.00 and I needed food, a bath, and a lie-down - in that order! Once recovered, I read Hazel's comment about having 72 feet of fence to paint.

Oh dear - if only. 72 is the measurement from the corner of the low fence (where it meets the higher fencing around the Coppice) back up towards the shrubbery behind the house. Like a fool thing, I went out with a very long surveyors tape and, for the first time, measured the fences at the back of our house.

The low fence, some of which was protected last month, measures 155 feet (that's jut over 47m for the youngsters). I have done 115' of one side - that means there is about 200' still to do.

Two sides of the tall fence around the Coppice are 76 feet - that's 152' to be painted at 5' high. A total of 350' of timber to creosote and THAT is not counting the 4th side of the Coppice (one side is wall) plus the very long fence which runs between us and the lane. No way I am going back out to measure that because there is no way it will get attended to this side of the Summer.

Hazel - yes, painting can get a bit Zen-like, with this much to do it needs to!

No girls, I am not going to spray - it is rarely windless enough here for that to be an option and as creosote is such horrible stuff I don't want to be breathing it in or having it drift onto the few plants we do have at Bag End.

I think I'm going to have another lie-down . . .

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Yes, No, Yes

Yes - it is flippin' hard work!

No - there are no shortcuts.

Yes - it is worth it.

When the big heavy logs got too big & heavy I turned my attention to a pile of much smaller timber which had been laying next to the fence for over a year - amazing how time flies . I now have an area along the fence line completely clear which is, frighteningly, 72 feet long. This is from the corner where the Coppice starts to just behind the rowan with the hazelnut feeder. That's a lot of fence ...

Need to finish creosoting and attending to any rotten timber, then I can start on clearing the ground and preparing it for a hedge (yeah, yeah, yeah, famous last words . . .)

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Do they mean me?

A brief and amusing diversion at the website of the Hardy Plant Society.

As for the final paragraph - a score of more than three? Sheesh, even the dog could score more than that!

I will not admit to my own score, just that I am obviously a completely hopeless case (even though I know exactly where my car keys are!)

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Fed up with looking out of the kitchen window

and seeing this HUGE pile of logs.

There are a dozen other things I probably "ought" to have done this afternoon, preparing vegetable beds, creosoting the fences, clearing up cherry roots are the three which spring easily to mind, but I didn't want to do any of them. Which is why I spent a breezy, sunny, birthday afternoon hauling timber.

And who thought that with increasing age comes sense and rational behavior?

Not bad for a couple of hours work. Just think how much more I could have accomplished had I not spent the morning on the phone, gone to Sainsbury's and spent an hour looking at a new gardening book?

Monday, 11 May 2009

Mr Hairy - the transformation

I was going to call this post "Mr Hairy No More" but then I realised you'd all think the poor chap had died!

Our wonderful vet, Clare Welford, pronounced him well enough to spend half an hour in the grooming parlour and felt that even if he didn't like the experience he would benefit greatly from being without a thick coat as we go into summer.

He seems to agree and has bounced around (well, as much as an unwell 13 and 11/12ths can bounce) since he came home. Ollie and I think he looks splendid like this, Management does not agree, however as Management does not do the grooming, cleaning or wearing of thick fur during the summer, his vote doesn't actually count, sorry.

Monday, 4 May 2009

I feel all thin

"Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread" *

What a week, worrying about Ollie and constant broken nights, not helped by Management being at the other end of the country. The good news is that yesterday evening, our Canine Friend seemed much brighter and was quite enthusiastic about two bowls of food.

At bedtime there was some barking when we think he was suggesting he had another bowl of dinner but this was followed by grumbling as he had to settle for some plain biscuits. Even better news is that he got through the whole night without asking to go out for a potty-stop! He must be feeling better and not being woken at 3.00am has made me feel much better too!

Keeping an eye on his Estate!

Ollie is a bit thin too - 8 days of upset tummy and eating very little have trimmed his waistline and the new haircut means we can actually see the difference.

* © J.R.R.Tolkien

Friday, 1 May 2009

Disaster Zone (3)

It had taken much longer than we hoped to get these stumps out and the clearing up was not as thorough as any of us would have liked, but I guess that is not the end of the world.

John had always wanted to turn over the vegetable beds for me and that was his final half hour before packing up. In hindsight, I should have taken away the turf before he turned the soil but that's for another post.

Mr Hairy came to investigate the mess which that Monster had made.

"S'OK Mum, you don't need that big machine, I can do digging"

After our scare on Friday, I didn't think I would ever see him dig again. If chucking soil all over the place makes him happy, he can excavate as much as his little heart desires.

I hadn't thought through just how much RUBBISH we were going to be left with. There is definitely a bonfire on the agenda. Trouble is, the two biggest stumps can't be moved (too heavy) and chopping them up is going to do the chainsaw chain no good at all . . .

The two biggest cherry stumps

Three "smaller" ones (2 x Leylandii, 1 x cherry)

The eucalyptus stump, in many pieces