Saturday, 24 September 2016

New light

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I love the internet, and I especially love blogs.  I cannot complain about M. spending hours on Facebook talking motorbikes or watching videos of cute puppies when I can spend just as long reading about gardening, quilting, yoga, outdoorsy stuff, or just anything which  catches my attention.

Last week I saw a fabulous solar powered light at Leigh's Five Acres and a Dream.  Despite Leigh buying her light halfway round the world, globalisation meant that I had one of my own 48 hours later.  Sadly it sat unopened for the rest of the week whilst I ran a drop-in coffee shop for all our tradesmen, but this morning it was the work of minutes to fix it up near the log store.

Finally I will have light where I need it and trips in the dark to get wood will be rather easier than they were before.  I have a feeling though, that this unit will get moved to the greenhouse to supplement the flourescent tube which really isn't bright enough, and I will get a different MicroSolar light that's more suited to the dampness of this area to illuminate the log store.

Thanks Leigh!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

A full house

To tell the truth I wasn't completely sure that today would go as planned, there was a distinct possibility that booking five different skills to be here on one day could go horribly wrong.  But, we had a fabulous day and a great deal was achieved.

For me it passed in a something of a blur of endlessly filling the kettle and washing mugs!  Everyone turned up, everyone did (pretty much) what was expected of them, and the sun shone.

I spent pretty much the whole day on my feet: making a drink for one of the 'gang', checking they were OK, checking they were doing what I wanted, move on to the next one, rinse and repeat . . .

By the time I'd done the rounds of every skill, it was time to go back to the first one again.  And yes, I regularly never got round to making myself a drink in the middle of it all.  But we survived very well, and tomorrow there's only Wayne & Keith outside, and Kate finishing off inside - easy peasy.

So, a quick round-up of what was achieved:   Ian probably had the most boring job and spent the whole day putting wood preservative on the vegetable beds.  I think it is fair to say that by the time he left to collect the kids from school he was thoroughly sick of Cuprinol 'Willow'.  It does look absolutely scrumptious though!

LP came for another half day and continued to work on the little scrap of ground at the end of the huge log pile.  "All" it needs now is a bit of digging over and we can then plant 3 or 4 laurel, the eventual plan being to both screen the timber stack and add some evergreen to this area which can look a bit stark in winter.

Graham quietly worked away outside the garden, the only sign of his presence was the tell-tale "chip chip" of a hammer on rock as he dressed salvaged stone and made an outstanding job of repairing our old wall at the end of the Coppice.  He also checked over both sides of the whole wall, secured a couple of small loose stones using lime mortar rather than the cement that someone had once daubed on the top, and replaced a coping stone on the outside wall.  He has the tidiest van of any builder on the planet, is extremely pleasant to work with and we'll definitely have him back to do more work in future.

Kate continued to quietly work her way around numerous pieces of old and tatty pine furniture.  Much of it has now had six coats of Farrow & Ball and will be finished tomorrow.  The painted pieces deserve a post of their own when she has finished.

Typically, it was Wayne and Keith who made the most mess - but probably also the most impact.  Remember the arch & gate which used to cause us so many 'privacy' problems before the big wall was built on the drive in June 2014?  Time to re-use it and improve the unsightly mess that was/is the patio outside our front door.

In a simple (ha ha ha) act of recycling, it now has a new home.

A busy day at Bag End wouldn't be complete without a couple of wildlife moments. We were delighted to find this little Sand Lizard under one of the paving slabs and she was safely moved to the stone near the Top Pond. Less delighted to find where the mice have been stashing hazelnuts . . .

We still have to make decisions about the height of raised beds, trellis, gate and so on, but already it looks an order of magnitude better :)

Very deliberately no-one was working in the same space as anyone else, so there were no "little conflicts" and everyone seemed to get on really well.  The only person not to have a great time was Daisy who got thoroughly fed up of me constantly moving around and her not getting quite as much attention as she thinks is appropriate.  I made it up to her at the end of the day with one of our regular 2 ½ miles around the lanes and at the end of the evening she completely crashed out on the sofa.  No-one else had a chance - Madam had taken up all of it, aw bless.

Bleeuuuurrghh - rubbish iPad picture :(

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The week the circus came to town

We never meant to buy a fixer-upper when we moved to Cumbria.  We never meant to take on 2/3 acre of wilderness and turn it into a garden.  We never meant to still be renovating after 8½ years.  But we are where we are (one of Management's favourite sayings) and aren't we bloomin' lucky to be able to do it all? (one of mine).

I've leant a huge amount since we moved to Bag End, and one of the many things I've learnt about myself is that I have limited tolerance for the disruption caused by having tradesmen working here.  It has finally dawned on me, however, that having two or three different jobs done at the same time causes no more disruption than having just one.  In which case, how much fun would be it be go for six in the same week?

So this week looks like I'm running a drop-in cafe:

Monday through Friday:  Kate is here for five days painting more of our old pine furniture.

Monday and a bit of Tuesday:  Alan was working in the garden.  He completely transformed the steps down from the balcony, I've now got framing outside the small shed so we can make another small covered area and the front of the log store is now beautifully clad with timber and should be watertight once I've applied flashband.

Wednesday morning:  LP came back for the first time since his hand surgery and did half a day.  In that time he completely cleared a dumping ground next to the big log pile, and tried very hard to persuade us to buy his old trailer.  He used the 'bribe' of all his old compost as the reason for bringing the trailer - not sure why he left it here overnight though:)

Management is working at home all week and having stressful and irritating computer problems, so was added to the list of those needing to be taken care of with regular tea and coffee, but he got sympathy too :)

But that is not nearly disruption enough.  Tomorrow (if everyone turns up), we're adding Wayne & Keith to do some work on the patio and Graham to do clever stonemason-stuff on the old wall at the bottom of the Coppice.

In July I made a small start on adding some colour to the garden timber.


I didn't get very far before the shoulders decreed this was not a job I could finish, so Ian will be along to do the painting for me.

Plus LP again if he's not suffering too much from today.

In the midst of all this Daisy is doing very well for walks, food and being thoroughly spoilt.  She knows perfectly well that large balls are not allowed in the house but for some reason, this week she's getting away with it . . .

Sunday, 18 September 2016


I spent much of Saturday working on the big bed in the Cottage Garden.  As a result I spent much of Sunday recovering from Saturday.

I've "joked" on a few occasions about the Cottage Garden having gone badly feral over the last couple of years.  There is no-one to blame but me - I've been occupied elsewhere and given these beds no attention so quite naturally, nature has done what nature does, and the weeds have taken over.  Completely.

I suppose it is not completely my fault - our Does.Absolutely.Nothing.In.His.Garden.Peeping.Tom.Neighbour ought to share some of the blame; most of the weeds have marched into my beds from his side of the fence.  Friendly stuff, the sort that is easy to erradicate like ground elder, horsetail and willowherb.  Grrrr.   There will be glyphosate in the future, but there's a lot more hacking and slashing to go before I get to that stage.


(I have no idea why Blogger is putting a line through the picture, it's been doing it all weekend, grrrrrr)

I was wrong about one thing though, it's not so much feral as zombie apocalypse.

This little area (which, not coincidentally, is the furthest from next door) has responded well to serious digging, so there is possibly hope for the rest.

Bag End is not always quite the happy little nirvana which some folk seem to think it is :)

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Winter salads?

In an ideal world I would have sown loads of seeds this Spring and have enjoyed a greenhouse full of edible loveliness.  At risk of repeating myself it ain't an ideal world!  I was too tired, too run down, in too much pain earlier in the year and to my shame the greenhouse has produced nothing but the occasional stray weed.  Thankfully, that has now all changed.

Encouraged by the success of my leaky hose in the bed behind the house, and having had the foresight to order a very large roll, I have finally got some irrigation in the greenhouse.  Unfortunately our idea of feeding the hose from the IBC tanks isn't working - not enough water pressure.  BUT, it will not take much to put a small header tank between the IBCs and the greenhouse and chuck in the smallest submersible pump, which should sort out that problem.

Inspired by Charles Dowding, who is an absolute God and guru when it comes to sensible gardening, I'm going to see how we get on with winter salads.

It's all in this short video:

Charles says sow seeds in September in modules and plant out the plugs in October.  So, on 5th September I had a mammoth seed sowing session.  Prior to this there was a lot of hot hours bent over a sieve preparing the top four inches of soil, and a huge number of cans of water to rehydrate the beds after a long hot summer of abandonment.  I didn't bother with modules going straight into the soil, hopefully carrot root fly are not around at this time of year . . . If I took any photos that day then I've lost them ... but eight days later it all looked like this:

Nearly two weeks on the amount of germination has exceeded any expectations (although one of the warmest Septembers on record might be helping a little).

I have now extended this experiment to the small fruit cage next to the greenhouse.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained . . .

Ever eagle-eyed, Management spotted that some of the mixed baby leaves have already germinated.

It has been surprisingly easy to slip back into the routine of going to the greenhouse each morning, checking the plants, watering, opening windows.  It's all rather lovely, really :)  I wonder how soon the weather will turn nasty and mess everything up?

Holiday at home, part 2

Management pointed out it was my holiday too, so the laundry and general housekeeping has gone to hell in a handcart :)  When not 'helping' Management (euphemism for standing around saying things like "what can I do" knowing full well the answer is 'nothing'), walking Daisy and feeding us, there was a considerable amount of gardening.  There has been much more than the photos show, for example whilst preparing the greenhouse soil for winter salads (which is going to get a post all of it's own) I sieved the top four inches of each bed - that's not exactly a photogenic process.

The holiday started well with a delicious delivery from J. Parkers, nothing has been planted yet and the bulbs are in a dark, cool place for a couple of weeks.  How to make a middle aged woman very happy {giggle}.

Whilst Management deconstructed the Little Red Tractor I worked nearby on the back vegetable beds.  Daffodils and narcissus from tubs (which failed on the drive when they got blown off the wall) have been planted next to the fence, and seeing as Verbena bonariensis seems to want to self seed all over this area, I've "targeted" the plants in the same line.

For the past few years I have gently been collecting Cyclamen, mostly hederifolium but also a couple of delicate little Cyclamen coum.  In a garden the size of Bag End, small plants tend to get rather lost so all the cyclamen were "safely" in the small bed behind the willow fedge.  Unfortunately, the intended removal of the willow means the cyclamen need a new and safe home.  Whilst our original plan idea was box-alike hedging in the new bed, whilst M. was working on the outside lights I moved all the big corms, and if I say so myself it all looks rather lovely.  I will see the flowers every day during winter when I go to the bird feed bin, they are protected from the worst of the weather, and won't get 'lost' amongst the more enthusiastic planting.

It was lovely to find so many babies - but did I really need to pot up 180 seedlings?  Of course I didn't but since when did common-sense and logic have anything to do with growing plants?

As soon as the salad seeds starting germinating in the greenhouse I had a mad idea (there's a pattern here ...).  The small fruit cage is currently empty so I've duplicated my greenhouse sowing in these three beds.  It will be interesting to compare the fate of the same plants, side by side but half under cover and half in just a sheltered spot.  If I end up with a surfeit of salad leaves in winter that will be a fun problem to have.  If they all keel over and die I've lost nothing.

And then there is the 'interesting' patch, optimistically named the New Garden . . . oh what a mess that has turned out to be.  Originally it was going to be a wildflower meadow but right this moment I cannot remember why that idea went off the rails.  Last year part of it looked good with native species I'd grown and planted out but much of it went to hell in a handcart before I could finish planting.

(October 2015)

This year we've relied on cornflower, borage et al which have self seeded from last summer but it's been a complete mess and recently I cannot get to the fruit cage without fighting to get along the path.  It's all got to come out and start again - sigh.

Of course there has been other stuff, grass cutting, general fiddling about, 'drive-by weeding' when I walk past something which really cannot be ignored any longer and a 30 second stop turns into 30 minutes . . . , but that will do for today's blog :)