The local lanes are lined with bilberries. We've been watching them ripen over the last few weeks and in early July we finally got round to picking some.
Bilberries are tiny, and they don't really taste very nice raw. It takes a long time to pick a worthwhile crop. But it's a pleasant evening's work pottering up and down the lanes in the sunshine, and it gave us a chance to inspect some of our dry stone walls.
Eventually we picked a couple of tubs full and headed home.
This lot went into the freezer, and then into a couple of batches of scones, which I seem to have neglected to take photos of.
Next up is blackberries, and I've already spotted a few ripe ones while out running, so I must pop down the field and check ours at the weekend. There's something cheery about eating food that just grows without being planted.
Is it the end of the month again already? July has whizzed past in a sunshiney haze, which has been delightful to laze around in, distressing for farmers, and tiring for those of us who didn't manage to install water butts before the rain stopped.
Our local farmer (who these cows in our fields belong to) has been round and cut some of the grass, in the hope that it will stimulate it to grow again. We've offered to let the cows into our final field, and in return he's offered to remove our chimney (which we are delighted about). The cows seem pretty pleased too at having an entire new field to explore.
We have had to take some precautionary measures though. This is the field closest to the house, and the one I originally planned to grow my veg in, back in March when we seemed to have bought a swamp and this was the highest and driest place. You can see the start of the beds in this post from May.
Cows aren't well known for eating courgettes, but I reckon they'd have a go given half the chance, so the farmer has had to set up an electric fence around the edge of the field (probably all the while cursing the fool who planted courgettes in the far corner of a hay meadow).
It does make watering a bit of a palaver (don't worry, there's a handle to disconnect the fence, I don't have to limbo under it each time thank goodness). But these plants are pretty well established now so I wasn't watering them every day anyway, and this weekend we've finally had a good downpour so they should be ok. The yellow courgettes are coming along nicely.
Ignore the weeds. I don't lean towards the neat and tidy garden look. The hay mulch kept the weeds down for long enough for the plants to get established and that's the most important thing in my book. It won't be long until we can start harvesting these now, which I'm very excited about. I'm also quite excited to see what other squashes turn up - I planted round green courgettes, patty pans, pumpkins and butternut squash, but sadly the labels washed off so I don't know which plant is which until the fruits appear.
The raspberries are up here too, fenced off from the cows (well known raspberry thieves). We had a few handfuls from them but they appear to have come to an end now sadly. I love raspberries, and will be moving these closer to the house and increasing production next year.
In the other part of the garden, the greenhouse is doing well, and I can't believe the change since my June post.
We've been eating home grown lettuce all month (and some of it has gone to seed now as we haven't got to it quickly enough). I can't quite believe the amount of purple basil - I really must get that into the freezer soon as it's starting to flower. The tomatoes have finally started setting fruit.
I feel like there's a mysterious art form to tomatoes that I haven't quite grasped yet. These are the plants a friend gave us - my own are still pretty small, although one of them now has a few flowers on.
The real stars of the greenhouse are the cucumbers.
I've never grown them before, and didn't expect them to germinate, so planted quite a few, and ended up with nine large plants in the greenhouse. It's been quite a battle to keep them watered, and as you can see in this picture, I haven't always managed it. They've had lots of flowers on though, and have started fruiting, which is very exciting.
At least it was exciting, until I picked my first one today and my goodness it's bitter! It was ok near the tip, but towards the end it became inedible. I've been reading up, and apparently this can be due to 'stress' - often by not having enough water. It seems my daily trekking up and down with the watering cans wasn't quite enough... Oh well. I've stepped up my watering regime (no idea if it will make a difference at this stage) and we'll hope for the best.
It has been pretty good to eat our own salads though.
Outside, some cheery visitors helped me dig more beds and we now have two types of beans, kale and rocket in the ground.
This picture is from about two weeks ago when the beans just started forming - they now look like proper French beans so I hope we'll be harvesting them soon too.
I've turned the compost again, and got another bucket of lovely compost out of it, which has gone into the veg beds.
It's been so dry though that a lot of the grass had just turned to hay in the heap, and it's been quite a chore to keep up with the watering. We don't have an outside tap near the veg, and it's barely rained since I installed my water butts, so I've been back and forth to the tap in the utility room, two watering cans at a time.
This week I finally thought about it properly and started saving my shower water.
It's no more effort (our bathroom is on the ground floor), and saves perfectly drinkable treated water from going to the plants while grey water washes out into the field (we're not on mains drainage here and the bath water doesn't go into the septic tank). I'm extremely glad there has been some rain this weekend - finally I can go back to just watering the plants in the greenhouse for a few days, and hopefully by then everything else will be a little stronger and able to fend for itself.
So there we are - a whizz round our garden in July. I wonder what August will bring? (Apart from too many courgettes, that is...)
We've had two lots of visitors this week - a friend on Wednesday and my mum this weekend. A good job really, as my ongoing list of Things That Need Doing was getting rather long.
Fortunately both visitors were willing volunteers, and between us all we've managed to get a few more plants out of the greenhouse. I'm not digging the beds - just scything the grass, lifting the very top layer of tangled roots with a pick axe, and then loosening the roots before digging a small hole and planting into compost. It's a reasonable compromise as it's too late for no dig this year without buying in a load of compost (which I'd rather not do).
We've had some wildlife visitors this week too, starting with a bird that flew into the window and sadly died. It's not the first we've had (although the last one survived) so we do need to investigate how to stop it.
The second visitor happily didn't crash into anything - it was just basking in the sunshine on a blanket in the living room.
I've never seen a lizard before so this was quite exciting.
Our third interesting wildlife experience this week was a buzzard, perched on a fence post, with two crows either side of it. We often see buzzards round here, and I've seen them being mobbed by crows, but never sitting this close to them. You'll have to excuse the rubbish picture - my camera isn't great for far away wildlife shots.
It's not all been wildlife-spotting and digging for our visitors - yesterday we went to a local village fete.
Today has been rather sedate in comparison, with a trip to the local tip, some more digging, and my mum cut the grass inside the small greenhouse with a pair of scissors (it was nearly up to the second shelf, so it was in dire need of a cut).
The sun's come out again now so I'm trying planning where to put a willow dome. At our old house we had a willow hedge in the garden, and I brought some cuttings with me - they've been busy growing in a bucket of water for the last five months so I really do need to plant them soon. I love willow domes, and never had room for one before, but I'm planning a nice big one now, maybe with a door facing east for the view, and west for the sunset.
Oh, and I forgot about the most exciting thing - chickens! We've been on the list for rescue hens for a while now, and finally we've got a date. Our new ladies will be joining us on 2nd September, so before then they'll need a home. They're barn hens, so while they haven't been in cages, they also have never been outside before. I've wanted chickens for many, many years so I think I'll be quite unbearably excited over the next six weeks while we get ready.
If you followed me over from my previous blog, you'll know that I'm an enthusiastic but somewhat slow and very sporadic runner. I frequently start running, keep it up for a few weeks, enter a ridiculous race (triathlon, marathon, series of trail races etc), then stop training, come last, have a nice day out and then not run again for several months.
It's a pattern that's repeated itself many, many times over the last fifteen years or so.
So when I found myself thinking about running again lately, I knew I was in trouble. My most recent foray into organised running was a series of trail races my sister and I did at the start of this year, but the longest of those was only four miles, so they weren't really that outlandish.
Still, that's not how the pattern starts. The pattern starts with 'I'm feeling a bit podgy/unfit', then 'hmm, I'm sure I was thinner (and I was definitely fitter) when I was running a lot'. Then I go for an experimental run, and sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn't.
This time against all my instincts I turned to the couch to 5k. I've avoided this so far - I've done two marathons and several triathlons and countless other races, so it feels rather demoralising to admit you're starting from the couch again. But you have to start where you are, and where I am definitely classes as 'couch'.
So I've just started week four, and I'm already running faster than I did when I was marathon training. I'm actively looking forward to going out for a run (although with this scenery, that's not really surprising).
Four weeks in is about that time in the cycle where I start being open to suggestion about entering a stupid race.
So, it seems my sister and I have entered an ultra marathon. Don't worry, it's not a scary one, not really. It's an out and back route of just under ten miles, and you can do it as many times as you like until the time runs out.
My longest marathon time is just under seven hours, and for this race we have fifteen. Easy peasy, and time for a nap in the middle too.
Plus it's flat, whereas my runs round here most definitely are not.
According to the cycle, I've probably got about three weeks of enthusiasm left before the novelty wears off, and I'm left with an inexplicable (and expensive) race entry for an event that fills me with equal amounts of dread and hilarity.
Wish me luck...
Where did the last two weeks go? It feels like forever since I've posted here. As always, I can see what I've been up to by scrolling through my photographs...
Hmm. But it hasn't all been entertaining visitors and eating. There's been plenty of pottering in the garden (although I'm saving all that for one post at the end of the month). I've also been creating us some footpath signs.
We don't get a lot of walkers here, maybe four or five lots in total over a sunny weekend. Most of them can read a map, and it's pretty obvious that the main footpath runs straight down our driveway. The side footpath isn't so obvious though until you're right on top of it, and a couple of groups of young people have gone wandering off into the wrong field (from which there isn't an exit), or stood around looking puzzled. So I've added a couple of yellow arrows and hopefully that will clear things up (I always appreciate clear footpath signs when I'm out walking - I hate standing in someone else's yard not knowing where I'm going!)
We've been making some progress inside the house too - although I use the term 'we' loosely as my involvement has mainly been providing the occasional cup of tea.
We're still struggling to find a builder who will remove that wall, so in the meantime Peter has removed everything else, including a false wall, the door frames, built in cupboards and old wiring. We can't use these rooms until this work is done so the rest of the house is full of boxes of stuff that should be up here. You can see how wonky the floor is.
All this sorting (and the sunshine) has at least given us a chance to air a few clothes that have been in boxes for a couple of years.
In slightly less alarming news, I've been on a few local outings. First off to a quarrying trade show - not my usual nice-trip-into-the-countryside but fascinating nevertheless.
The giant machines looked like toys inside the quarry. The main attraction for me though was this.
This is The Man Engine, and it was both extremely impressive and extremely beautiful. The tour has finished now, but if you do ever get a chance to see it I'd highly recommend it.
We've been to a couple of other localish events too - a school fair, and a Tudor fair, which I visited right at the end of the day, so was lucky enough to be given some home made butter to take home, wrapped in a butterbur leaf.
It was National Meadows Day recently so we also visited a farm with a hay meadow, and had a tour from the local Wildlife Trust to show us how to identify various grasses and flowers.
Quite a lot of the flowers had gone to seed because we've had such hot weather lately and so little rain. Everywhere here is dry (like much of the rest of the country) and we've had several moorland grass fires, which is very unusual round here. It's not often I find myself longing for rain, but lately I have been.
So that's where I've been - wandering about the countryside, drinking tea and looking at the view. And digging and planting and being at work of course, and various other things that I'll save for another post. In the mean time, I'll go back to hoping for a bit of rain soon.
Gosh, it's a while since I've done a monthly 'in the garden' post. The last one was October, in a very different garden.
After a lot of snow, and a bit of being very overwhelmed, things are progressing nicely in our new garden.
Both greenhouses are full, and I've even started planting things outside.
We've had our first harvest too - just pea shoots and lettuce, and some tiny unintentional potatoes we found in a planter.
The next couple of months should be exciting. In the big greenhouse in pots we have tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, basil, coriander, and some climbing French beans that I'll plant outside at the weekend.
Already outside we have some mystery beans, an an assortment of summer and winter squash and courgettes (the labels faded and they all look the same at the minute).
And in the small greenhouse, which is an ongoing production line of things moving from smaller to bigger pots, we have more squash, more cucumbers, more tomatoes, plus kale, cabbage, cauliflower, rainbow chard, and beetroot.
It won't all survive of course. I've already lost one batch of kale, and all of my spinach, and I didn't repot the chard in time so it's tiny. Some of my tomatoes are still the size of matchsticks because they haven't been repotted, and at this point I think they might have to be consigned to the compost (who needs 18 tomato plants and 20 cucumber plants anyway?) I do hate throwing things away though.
My main garden success at the minute is the compost.
This unpicturesque mess is actually a thriving compost making machine. The giant pile of hay was in one of the outbuildings, and is slowly being added to the compost. The left bay has a mix of hay, fresh grass, and free horse manure that someone was giving away in bags at the side of the road. The middle bay is where I'm mixing stuff from the left and the right to give it all a bit more air.
And, to my surprise and delight, the right hand bay has actually rotted down into lovely, luscious compost.
I genuinely wasn't expecting that. I was just turning both end bays into the middle one to mix them, and the bin we put our food waste in had barely any food waste left.
Pretty impressive, given that I didn't build the bins at all til late March. Clearly I've just hit on the right mix of vegetable peelings, apple cores, coffee grindings, and old hay.
Whatever it is, I'm ever so grateful, and now adding some of my own home made compost to the bottom of the big tubs I'm planting tomatoes and cucumbers in.
In other kind-of-garden news, our cows are still here, and apparently have another couple of weeks before they give birth.
We're getting rather fond of them as time goes on. Yesterday we noticed their water trough (filled from the spring) was empty, so we rang the farmer and he came and fitted a new trough filled from the water mains.
My current favourite part of the garden isn't growing at all though.
This is a metal swing seat that we acquired from someone who was throwing it away, and I love it. It looks ridiculous with that blanket over the top of course, but I assure you it's quite necessary to cast a bit of shade in all this heat we've been having. I'm spending rather a lot of time out there at the minute, staring idly at the scenery (and the cows).
And as we have flowers in abundance at the minute, I've even been bringing a few indoors when we have visitors.
Most jolly. I do love flowers in the house, and these roses, which are growing right by the back door, are so very fragrant they make the whole room smell.
So there we are, a snapshot of the garden in June. This has been fun, and I'll try to remember to do it every month from now on. It's already good to look back on how things have progressed in the four months since we moved here (four months, already?)
We've had some good weather round here lately, and while it's tempting to stay at home and tackle the endless round of Things To Do, I have managed to sneak off for a couple of little bike rides on our local trails.
I confess they haven't been very speedy bike rides, as I often seem to find myself off my bike, taking photographs of flowers. I just don't know how it happens.
I don't always know what they are, and I keep meaning to find out, but then something else distracts me and I forget again.
These are old railway trails, and I love the way they cut through the hills and look out over the countryside.
On one of my recent forays, I came across preparations for a local bicycling festival - it all looked very exciting and on the way home I saw someone driving with a penny farthing on a bike rack on the back of their car.
Occasionally there's an old station, or a dry stone hut, or even another cyclist, but mostly it's just me and the flowers and the weather.
Hooray! After much digging and carrying and swearing, the greenhouse is finally up!
I already have the plastic greenhouse of course, but with the amount of outside space we have now I'm planning to grow as much of our food as I can, so I began to hunt for a second hand glass greenhouse.
Fortunately, a lovely friend offered us hers, and we went to dismantle and collect it a few weeks ago. Since then, it sat in pieces in the garage while I pondered where to put it and dug a base.
Needless to say, it was a bit of a fiasco and took far longer than expected (and two panes spontaneously cracked in the garage), but we're finally there.
My other triumph took rather longer and rather more head-scratching - I have finally finished building the section of dry stone wall that collapsed not long after we moved in.
I had to dismantle a fair bit before I got to a section stable enough to rebuild on.
Slowly, over the last few weeks, I've been adding a few stones here and there, often late into the evening. This bit of wall catches the evening light, and I've often found myself out there at nine or even ten at night as the sun sets.
Slowly, the wall grew, and the farmers next door said encouraging things like 'it's a good start' and 'I've seen worse'.
Finally last night it was time to put on the top stones.
I'm laughing now, looking at how short the grass is in that first picture when it collapsed - it's now nearly up to my waist and I had to trample a load of it down searching for the top stones which had all but disappeared.
Already there's another gap in one of the fields, and several more places seem in danger of imminent collapse.
Still, that's the way with dry stone walls - they stand for a hundred years then one day you wake up and there's a hole. It doesn't so much matter in between our fields, but I wouldn't want any of our cows escaping onto someone else's land, or to find someone else's sheep in our fields. So every day when I'm out, I cast my eyes around to make sure everything's still standing (the cows aren't helping by rubbing their chins on the top stones, pesky beasts).
I could easily fill all my days, and several other lifetimes too, with pottering round here, although things feel slightly more manageable now we have the cows to keep the grass down, and the seeds planted and in the greenhouse, and some veg beds prepared, and wall fixed.
I'm not even sure what the next job is. Possibly fixing the collapsed wall between the fields (it's good to practice on unnecessary walls, I feel), and the beans will need planting out soon - I've been hardening them off for a few days now, inside the greenhouse at night and out during the day.
And chickens! I have promised myself that I'll be ready when the announcement comes for the next local rescue day, and I've decided where they're going, but I'm still being indecisive about hen house design. I'm leaning towards something simple and temporary which can be made more elaborate once we've established a bit of a routine.
In the meantime, we're pottering about in the fields before and after work and at the weekend, becoming weather beaten and sore, and still vaguely like we're on holiday in someone else's life.
The weather's been pretty good around here, and things are starting to grow alarmingly fast. Fortunately, the cows are taking care of most of the fields, in the greenhouse things were getting a bit unwieldy.
Oops. I've done quite a bit of repotting lately, helped by various visitors, and things are settling down (although I don't think the spinach is going to forgive me).
Now the individual pots look (mostly) ok, but the greenhouse itself is starting to get rather crowded.
(Actually, it doesn't look very crowded at all in that picture... but some of the beans are starting to get too tall for the shelves and there isn't much room on the floor...)
Anyway, I was given a proper glass greenhouse by a kind friend a few weeks ago, and it's languished in a pile in the garage while I've been occupied elsewhere. Last weekend I started making a base for it.
This was the first of many iterations and much swearing. I chose this spot because (a) it's sunny, (b) it's on hardcore rather than just soil, and (c) it's relatively flat. Relatively flat. It's taken me several days of pickaxing several hours at a time to make it actually flat, and looking through my photos I see I've failed to even get a picture.
Oh well. The frame is up now (and it was so hot while I was doing it that I had to leave my camera inside), but I have so far failed to put the glass in. It needs doing all in one go, to lessen the chances that it will blow away, and I've just not had a long enough stretch of time (and won't have until the weekend again now).
In the meantime, I've also been sorting out some beds, as some of these plants are destined to live outside.
People keep suggesting the no dig method - and while I approve in principle, in practice that requires rather a lot of input and time, and so I'm going for a modified version.
One bed that I started a few weeks ago is closed to 'no dig' - I scythed the grass down, covered it with cardboard, then a layer of bought in compost, then a layer of freshly cut grass. The grass underneath the whole lot is starting to die off now after a few weeks.
This is decades-old pasture land though, not your average garden lawn, and there is a lot of creeping buttercup and various things that aren't going to be killed off easily. And I need more than one bed - and there now isn't time to do the same thing with the others (and I don't really want to spend a fortune on buying in compost).
So this time round, the pickaxe came out, and I removed the top layer of matted grass.
Then I went over the whole thing with a fork, and removed the main enormous roots.
Then I covered it with a layer of scythings, a layer of cardboard, and a layer of week-old scythings that had been drying out in the sun (not for any good reason, they just needed using for something).
Not perfect, but technically I didn't really dig anything (it was hard enough work though).
This should all rot down, and when I'm ready to plant, I can make small holes in the cardboard, fill them with compost, and plant into them, without worrying (too much) that they'll be competing with the grass roots.
I think no dig beds are best started in the autumn, so this year I'll get on the case (and I'm already considering moving them elsewhere for next year anyway).
So maybe I'll be able to grow some vegetables this year. Now the beds are nicely installed (or some of them at least, I might need a couple extra at some point), I can get back to the greenhouse.
Or rather I can get back to actual work, and the greenhouse will have to wait until the weekend. There just aren't enough hours in the day at the minute.
Last week our cows arrived. We're very excited.
Of course, they aren't actually ours - they're on loan from the local dairy farm as lawnmowers. Apparently they're 'dry cows', eight months pregnant (not for the first time), and just lounging around in the fields waiting for their calves to arrive.
I know pretty much nothing about cows, and am drinking in every little bit of information the farmers are willing to give me. This week I've learned that cows are pregnant for roughly the same time as humans (who knew?), that they won't eat buttercups because they're too bitter, that before they give birth they have sixty days of rest from milking, and that the price the dairy will pay the farmers for milk fluctuates throughout the year.
Sometimes the depths of my ignorance knows no bounds.
Yesterday the farmer dropped by with his young daughter, and I followed them into the fields to check on the ladies. They're surprisingly nimble considering their size, and wouldn't let us anywhere near them.
The young girl was telling me about her pets, and when I said I didn't have any, she said 'well you've got these cows now!' Excellent - I now feel fully justified in giving them names and posting pictures of them on the internet. (Not that we've actually given them names yet...)
For some reason I assumed cows would stay in one field until they'd munched all the grass and then wander to the next, but they don't do anything of the sort, they seem to wander about on a whim, sleeping first in one field, and then in another.
When you think about it, why would they see the fields as separate spaces? Those walls are our boundaries after all, and while they'll keep a cow out, if the gate is open, why wouldn't it go through?
After all, the grass might be greener over there.
We should have calves in around three weeks, and I'm told I won't need to have any involvement in the birthing process, although I'm keeping a close eye out and have the farmer's number just in case. I do feel partly responsible for them (even though technically I'm not at all) and can't help worrying just a little bit.
The cows, of course, have been through it all before and aren't showing the slightest bit of worry.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new forray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.