Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Nursery and greenhouse

After a brutal and painful session with the physio first thing I wanted to be outside, moving around.  I thought I could fix up the vertical flashing on the mower shed by myself.  That didn't work because [a] it's a two person job (one to hold, one to put in the fixings) and [b] sadly, LP miscalculated the dimensions and to do the job properly I need to re-measure the corners and order different sized flashing. Grrrr.

Moving on, doors are ordered for the mower shed so ground has to be dug out to enable the left-hand one to actually open.  Once again the "joy" of gardening on a slope .... there are plenty of occasions when I long for a boring, flat, plain patch of ground.

     (the bit of timber on the left is sticking out for good reason - it's to mark where the reinforced electric cable is buried)

OK, that job done, back to the greenhouse.  When Management put this up for me in 2010 I was in too much of a hurry to use it to spend the time properly levelling the ground inside.  I have paid for that impatience ever since.  I refuse to spend hundreds of pounds on heavy-duty staging and have designed my own very-quick-to-dismantle when I want to change things around version which involves sawhorses and roof lathe (it sounds dreadful but I know it will work, trust me, I'm a Determined Hobbit).  Unfortunately in order for it to work the sawhorses have to be on a level base.  I putzed around some more and just could not get my head around the best way to do things so I gave up, the "joy" of gardening on a slope .... there are plenty of occasions when I long for a boring, flat, plain patch of ground, (there's an echo round here).

Sorting out the nursery staging is on LP's list because it involves shifting quantities of large concrete blocks (three of which pretty much equal my weight).  Trouble is, LP isn't here for a couple of weeks until the soil dries a bit and every other job I tried to do this afternoon had fallen at the second or third hurdle so I was left with shifting large concrete blocks. (Did I mention three of which pretty much equal my weight?)

No task at Bag End is simple because the ground is so uneven.  Even in a relatively small space, with blocks positioned for pallets which are one metre square, the ground slopes from front to back and from left to right (as you look at it from this photo). 

Gave up at this point, partly because it was nearly 6.00pm and time to go in and partly because I couldn't get my head around the best way to straighten things up.  This needs Management's input, thankfully he's at home on Friday .

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Spring cleaning, and rain

First the rain. I've had enough thank you, please go somewhere else. Anywhere else, especially the middle or east of the country which needs it so badly. My unscientific plastic cones have recorded just over 2 inches of rain for February, no wonder the ground is sodden and the area around our big pond is a mud bath. It also means, disappointingly, that after going to all the expense and trouble of getting a lawn tractor so I can move supplies around easily, I can't move the machine around easily for fear of it getting stuck in the mud. In true Hobbit style, however, I Have A Plan .... but I've other things to do first!

Second, the Spring Clean which isn't so much a clean but attempt to tidy up various areas which have been abandoned to their own devices after one of the mildest, wettest winters that anyone around here can remember. Tabloid newspapers might have been heralding summer-like temperatures for the UK last weekend but Saturday was cold and we're not used to it. Despite the need to be bundled up we managed a good afternoon outside. Management came to help me and for a couple of hours we worked at de-nailing wooden lathe salvaged from the re-roofing last year.

LP had stacked it all opposite the greenhouse. That was an excellent idea, apart from the bit where the pathway has become too narrow for anything wider than a small barrow. We've probably used half of the timber so far but the rest needs cleaning up. I want a lot of it for new greenhouse staging and it's all got to be shifted so I can get the tractor into the Cottage Garden. I knocked nails through, Management pulled them out.

We could have accomplished more but much time was spent pondering access into the mower shed; I might have successfully parked the mower on Friday but it wasn't easy. A major problem is that even with the seat in its most forward position, the machine is designed for someone with much longer legs, not Hobbit-sized ones, it was a bit like trying to drive someone else's car without adjusting the seat and that never works well. The Problem-Solving Brain (known as Management) suggested a trip to Halfords where we acquired a cheap pair of bicycle pedals. On Sunday I cable-tied these to the mower foot pedal which did the trick :}

Reluctantly I also concluded that my oh so clever timber sub-floor wasn't helping either so first thing Sunday it got dismantled. Plan B will be another delivery of quarry waste to raise the floor level. (But not until the ground has dried a bit and I can use the machine to move the sub-base .... back to those blasted dependencies again)

Sunday I putzed around in the working area and whilst it might not look much to anyone else, managed to clear up all the stuff which had moved in over the winter and was taking up valuable space.

I've also tried to make a start on sorting out the greenhouse. Despite my best intentions I've done exactly what I said I wouldn't do - used it as a dumping ground over the winter and subsequently rendered it unusable

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Blogger's latest "improvement" - word verification

I've yet to find anyone who is happy with the latest Blogger "improvement" which uses very hard-to-read captcha images for word verification. Hopefully I have turned off this annoyance and Bag End friends will find it easier to leave comments.

To do the same thing on your own blog you need to be in the "old interface" (which is much simpler, another example of the Blogger goblins changing something that didn't need messing with) and go to:

-> Settings
-> Comments tab (4th one along)
Scroll down to "Show Word Verification for comments" and click "no"

and if we get spam, I've got a delete key ...

© Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Suddenly, all things are possible

Management has been saying I need a ride-on mower ever since we moved here.  As I rather like slowly walking back and forth behind the petrol mower, enclosed in my own little world with ear-protectors, I resisted his generosity. Eventually, however, the cumulative effect of moving endless heavy items from one end of the garden to another proved too much and I agreed that some form of garden machinery with a towing hitch was now essential.  We researched mini-tractor machines, quad bikes, and for a brief while I toyed with the idea of a Massey Ferguson TE20* or maybe a MF35.   It became apparent that the cheapest way to get mechanical towing capability was to find a ride-on mower.  This decision was made at the back end of last summer but we didn't want to buy anything until we had somewhere to store it.  Enter the mower shed which has taken much longer to build than planned, but such is the way of life at Bag End.

Delivery mid-morning as expected, no rain for a change and even the sun was trying to participate.  All seemed well, but this being Bag End, the day was not without incident.  I successfully drove the machine from the drive up to the working area.  I successfully turned it around in order to reverse into the shed.  I successfully avoided the huge log pile and various other obstacles.**

I did not successfully avoid getting one of the back wheels stuck in mud that would not have been out of place on Mungrisdale Common***.

Fixing this involved second-hand reed screen (rapidly acquired from the nursery area, I was planning to take it down, just not today), taking out the corner of the wood pile with a chainsaw and the first trailer load of supplies as a huge quantity of bark chips were chucked on the ground.

After all that, reversing into the shed was easy-peasy.  Tomorrow, once some of the mud has dried, there is much cleaning to be done.

Unfortunately I'm rather limited in what I can do with our new toy at present.  Until the big pile of salvaged roof lath is de-nailed and moved I can't get onto the cottage garden, and the ground around the big pond is too soft to walk on, let alone drive a few hundred kilos of machine across it.  However, she feels safe, secure, very capable and I'm sure I'll have lots of fun towing supplies around Bag End (and occasionally cutting the grass).  All sorts of possibilities open up when I don't have to depend upon having someone else around to shift materials.

     (She does need a name though . . .)

The pressure is now off.  The mower shed is fundamentally weatherproof, alarmed and the machine is chained to the steel shed base.  Given the state of the ground (we've had 1¾" of rain so far and the month still has five days to go), LP and I have agreed to have a week or two off.  He's in the middle of his own major house renovation project and has got plenty to do right now.  I will be able to potter around, possibly even doing some gardening as opposed to construction work.  That'll be a nice change!

* and I reserve the right one day, to get one just because they are gorgeous!

  Skelton Show, 2010

**  James, if you say anything else about 4WD tractors you'll get a smack!

*** friends know that I loath, hate and detest Mungrisdale.  Ollie once fell - head first - into a bog up there and for a heart-stopping moment I doubted my ability to get him out.  The unexpected peat bath had no long term ill-effects on Mr Hairy.  I, on the other hand, have still not recovered and never intend to forgive.  It's not just me; Alan Hinkes, one of England's greatest ever climbers, once admitted to getting into serious trouble in a Mungrisdale bog that he would not have survived had it not been for a pair of walking poles and sheer good luck.

   Covered in peat (but why is his head clean when that's what went in first?) and smelling 'delightful'.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

I only went out for milk!

Chainsaw duty on Sunday, shed building Monday and tree surgery on Tuesday plus a sleepless night left me doing zombie impersonations on Wednesday, and Thursday wasn't looking much better.  Although he was willing to come back for more punishment, I asked LP not to come over today, when I'm this tired I'm best on my own.  There was still a lot to do before the mower/tractor gets delivered tomorrow but I figured if I just plugged away quietly I'd get there in the end.

I'm sure it's not as precise as it could be (and is very temporary) but the removal of a redundant gate and fence post plus a couple of spare planks means we can get the machine off the drive and into the garden.

A framework of reinforced pallets in the mower shed covered with old decking tiles makes a base that will keep everything off damp ground until such time in the summer as we pull it all out and create something more permanent.  Time to order the door.

More messing around sorting out uneven ground, pallets as duckboards over the endless mud, and the start of a sort of step-cum-seat in the Coppice that I've been meaning to get to since October.

When I did eventually stop, there was a quick dash to Aldi.  Which is where we started - I only went out for milk.

I came back with milk, two apple trees and 8 packets of summer-flowering bulbs (Dutch Iris, Gladioli, Acidanthera and Liatris) and there's a good chance I will go back tomorrow  for more, conveniently forgetting I've already purchased 380 bulbs which have to be planted.  At £1.29 a packet, why not?  The apples are Braeburn on M26 rootstock which won't get more than 2 - 3m tall.  It might not be the best variety for northern England, according to Charles Dowding it is susceptible to scab but it is one of my favourite eating apples and at £3.99 per tree, could hardly leave them in the store.

Now known as Gladiolus Callianthus (I wish the botanists would stop changing things) the Acidanthera aren't going to survive a wet Cumbrian winter if left in the ground and will need to be lifted each autumn.  Someone remind me please.  James?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A different predator

I was in the bedroom when a flash of brown outside caught my eye, too big to be a mouse (and thankfully, not chunky enough to be a rat).  Looked again to see a small weasel darting across the bed behind our small pond.  It then ran down the bed, across the lawn and completed another 1½ circuits of the Cottage Garden before disappearing towards the front.  Typically I didn't have a camera to hand and was too busy being enthralled watching this furtive creature to run for the Canon. I was able to get a really good look at it bouncing around the garden and it looked so cute, however appearances can be deceiving. This is a vicious little killer and if one of the blackbirds insists on trying to nest under the shed either her eggs or chicks will find themselves on the menu as weasel supper.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Today in pictures

If anything, Tuesday morning was wetter than Monday.  We've already had 1½" of rain in February and the ground is saturated.  In a perfect horticultural world I wouldn't go anywhere near the soil in these conditions but we don't have any choice, the silver birch have to be worked on when dormant otherwise they bleed so badly.  At least I can ask LP to dig over the badly compacted soil later in the year and repair much of the damage we must be doing to the soil structure.

A motley collection of photos today, blurry smudged ones from a very wet phone, glare from those taken through the kitchen window.

Driveway before we started.

Tarpaulin in place to contain the bark chips being flung into the air by the Jaws of Doom. 

Hobbit dragged most of this from the top of the garden to the chipping machine whilst LP fed the ravenous beast and Nona & Rob from Arbor-Tec did clever stuff with ropes and chainsaws.  I did feed a couple of branches into the machine just so I can say I'd done it but had no desire to stick around.

A much tidier drive when we'd finished.

As suspected, one of the birches was very badly rotted.  I hate losing a tree at any time, but if we didn't take this down now it would have to come out later. The other two have had a small amount of top reduction to try and improve their health and appearance; poor things spent so many years struggling to get past the leylandii that they are not in the best of condition.  There was also time to drop a birch which was heavily reshaped last year when it too was found to be full of rot.  The attempt to save it left us with an awful mess and by taking it out now I have the opportunity to replant something else.

Happily it did not take the pheasants long to return (they sneaked in for corn whilst we stopped for a cuppa) and our little Red friend came back as soon as all the tools were packed away.  I wish I could think of a way of keeping the larger birds out of the hazelnuts without using this cage which spoils all the photos.  One of the Rooks has learnt there are nuts in the wooden box on the Rowan tree and is often seen hopping around the garden with a nut in his beak.

The tree boys left at 12.00 and after a bit of clearing up LP left at 12.30. I was left with a mud room full of very soggy waterproofs.  Am beyond tired; I was meant to go out last night but that didn't happen.  I'm supposed to be out tonight too but there's zero to nil chance of me leaving the house once I've had supper.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Above and beyond the call of duty

When LP arrived at 8.30 this morning it was cold and windy.  We had a cuppa whilst looking at the pond and discussing plans for the week.  By the time we'd caught up on each others news it had started raining.  I thought he'd give up and go home but he'd made his mind up to try and get the mower shed as near to water-tight as possible.


He spent the day up ladders or on top of the shed, working hard.  I spent the day standing in deep mud steadying the ladder, getting very cold and making copious mugs of tea.

Two sets of waterproofs had to be hosed down at the end of the day and are currently drying in our mud room.  All credit to mine - 20 year old Rab walking gear that still keeps me bone dry in all weathers (although it's not breathable so can get a bit unpleasant by the end of the day!)

As if this wasn't enough, earlier when I told him the tree surgeon was due tomorrow morning he said "right, I'll be here at 8.30 then".  I really wanted his help but wasn't going to ask, he has a commitment on Tuesdays which I would never ask him to miss.  We might still be rained off tomorrow but I am in his debt for making the offer.

All photos from the phone which, thankfully, is waterproof, hence the smudges all over the lens and the fact that it is still working!


Supper, shower, bed.  Oh Dog, I'm so tired, and it's only Monday

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Just another normal Bag End Sunday

Saturday was a weather non-starter but Sunday could have come from a different month.

Blue sky, sunshine, snow on the distant fells . . .  and the gentle roar of a chainsaw as Hobbit and Management tackled the escallonia hedge for one final time.

    This doesn't even begin to show how horrible it really looks!

I chainsawed, Management carried, and a couple of hours later a large part of our driveway looked like this:

The front looks worse but Geoff will be bringing his digger to pull out the roots and then we can make a start on replanting something better.

We've tried to regenerate it but the plants are old, half dead, the bed is full of honey fungus and it isn't even the right plant for the location so it's all coming out.  The tree surgeon is due back this week and will bring his huge chipping machine.  We have his agreement to put all the escallonia through the shredder whilst he's here so it all had to come down without delay.  Of course, he's just phoned to say he will be here Tuesday morning (not Thursday as expected). Tuesday is the one morning that LP is never available and Management will be in London . . .  I am so not looking forward to trying to stuff all this lot into a shredder that could eat telegraph poles without difficulty.

After a late lunch I pruned the roses, the raspberries and the recently planted hazel in the Coppice - oh, and fixed windbreak net to the now very bare paddock fencing.  Too late and too tired to photograph any of that.

Friday, 17 February 2012

I've been thinking

We've got a busy weekend planned if the weather co-operates and next week could be pretty full-on in terms of garden work, so for once today I took it easy.

Tidied up the pony poo and Steadmans brought the ridge sections and flashings - that's an awfully big wagon for a very small delivery.

Rolling up the surplus pond liner around timber battens keeps it out of the way until we've finished messing with the edges, I never like to cut liner away until everything else is done.

The water looks rather drunken but it isn't.  The sage advice in books about getting pond edges level is all well and good, but it doesn't always work when you garden on a slope.  Last September, Laa Laa and Tipsy Dipsy tried very, very hard to make the edges level.  Unfortunately, doing so resulted in a slope on the bottom left-hand side of ridiculous proportions - it looked like the set from TellyTubby Land and had to go.

We're left with a pond that has the ground on one corner about 6" higher than on the opposite side and expanses of black plastic liner is not a good look.

I've been thinking* ...

Back in Hampshire we created a big log pile at the back of our pond which linked to the evergreen hedge.  It was never a problem that we couldn't walk all the way round, and the amount of birds, frogs and dragonfly we played host to indicates that we were doing something right.

If we create a boggy-bed-come-wood-pile at the back of the pond and link it to the holly hedge, maybe in a year or two the planting will be sufficient that it will disguise the change in levels?  (It will also hide that damn tree stump which will be no bad thing.)

We've got 7 or 8 huge bits of fairly level stone (excavated from under the big pond), a couple of which had been ear-marked as having waterfall potential when we link the two ponds with a little stream but I wonder if a few of them in the pond would help soften the difference in height?

All these plans and Bright Ideas, history shows that it's not always a good idea to Think Outloud, plans do tend to change but if they don't . . . at least it won't be me lifting all the stone!

allegedly three little words which strike more terror into the hearts of men than the 'other' three little words

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Pond progress pictures, part 2

First thoughts on waking:  "ouch" as more than a couple of muscles informed me that yesterday was hard work, followed by "what's the weather like?".  Trepidation overnight in case the wind got up and moved the blue tarps.  Whilst they don't matter I didn't want to have to refit all the black underlay. Thankfully the first problem was under control after some stretching and the second problem wasn't a problem.

As a couple of pheasant flew in for breakfast the look on their faces was priceless as they found themselves next to a sea of blue plastic.  You could see them thinking "what's THAT?"

First task, get the pond liner in place.  That's a real fun job single-handed {not} but as Management is fond of saying "you shouldn't have joined if you can't take a joke".  I wasn't looking forward to this bit and unwrapping a liner 7.5m x 5.5m on my own was probably the trickiest bit of the whole operation.  Determined Hobbits usually succeed in their garden endeavours and all of a sudden, things looked rather good.

Happily the laws of gravity apply and I was able to drain 1,000 litres from the tank next to the greenhouse directly into the pond.

That looks better!  Sadly, two IBC tanks of water were not going to fill this.  In a perfect world we would fill this with rain water but after much debate-with-self I figured we have to take the hit on the water bill and run a hose into it.

By 4.00 when rain stopped play it was all looking rather different from 24 hours earlier.

(complete with temporary escape ramps in case of swimming hedgehogs)

Yesterday I unearthed an old pond pump from the shed.  Fitted a plug after supper and had a little test in the sink:

Worked first time which is pretty amazing for a pump that hasn't been used for at least 14 years and was purchased nearly 17 years ago. 

Although the full IBC tank next to the greenhouse drained directly into the pond, the tank nearer the Cottage Garden is too low.  I need use the pump to shift the lower water to the higher tank.  Working out how to do so requires mental agility of Health Robinson-esque proportions and I'm going to leave that fun and games to Management at the weekend - he's good at stuff like that.