I've finally made a start on growing some veg.
Somehow I never quite get round to sowing seeds until the end of April, and that does feel quite late, but we're pretty exposed up here on the hillside so I tell myself I'm not too far behind.
For the last couple of years, I've been trying to use up some of the stash of seeds I've acquired rather than too many new. Last year I got sidetracked (by what? I can't even remember) and barely grew anything, but this year I've got several things on the go and am determined to make at least some of them work. Those above are rainbow chard and curly kale, and I've also sowed leeks, beetroot, and turnips.
These are my stash from the Heritage Seed Library membership my sister bought for my birthday. They're all in now except for the carrots. I've not grown carrots before and have in my head they're rather picky, so I'm going to sow them directly into large pots I think, rather than our pretty heavy soil.
I need to work on my recording system - these photographs are the only current record I have of which seeds are which, and if I start moving trays round or repotting I'll have no idea. I think I can sense a 'garden organisation' project coming on next winter...
Also in the greenhouse is the fig tree that was also part of my birthday present from my sister. I'm hoping I don't kill it. I've now fitted plastic replacements for the three glass panels that broke, so it's nice and warm in there. Fingers crossed.
Outside the greenhouse, I'm preparing the beds. The first year we were here I tried to grow food up in the corner of the meadow, and where the edible windbreak is now. Last year I made beds in the garden area (but then never really planted much in them). This year I'm making more of an effort.
I've laid out a square where the old beds were, and surrounded it with chicken wire. We'll have a gate on two of the corners (for easy access from both the house and garden seating area, and from the greenhouse and water butt), but these will be kept closed once the plants are in to keep out the chickens, and also hares, rabbits, and occasional stray sheep.
The fence is just chicken wire, but if necessary we can always attach wind barrier fabric to create a bit more shelter. I'm not planning to do that just yet, but we'll see.
I'm very much a fan of no dig gardening (not least because it involves me not having to dig), and ideally I would have created this area last autumn and mulched the whole lot, and now be looking at nice rich soil.
Sadly, I didn't, and I'm looking at a thick thatch of grass and dandelions. So we're taking the grass off and removing most of the roots, but not doing any kind of deep digging. You'd think the chickens would be a help at this stage, and they do a little bit of scratching, but mostly they just stand with their heads exactly where you want to put the fork, so the whole thing proceeds rather slowly when they're around.
Still, we are making some progress, with two beds cleared now, the fence finished (no gates yet), and stones put round part of the outside to block the gap between the fence and the ground.
I'll put stones round the edges of the beds too once we've cleared them (not for any good reason other than distinguishing them from the path, and because we have a lot of stones), and I'll top dress with some mulch of whatever kind I can find or make (compost, wood chippings, old hay etc).
It feels good to have a dedicated space to grow food, and I'm currently thinking of it a bit like a mini allotment out in the garden. I've got some flowers growing in various tubs that I'm going to plant in here too, and some herbs. I might try to grow sweet peas up one fence, and actual peas up another. I'm looking forward to having a defined growing space that I can (hopefully) keep in some kind of order, and I'm also hoping that keeping the chickens out, at least until the plants are bigger, will mean that things have a chance to grow without interference.
As always though, we'll see.
The start of August was rather soggy round here, and we developed a few new water features.
The sun did emerge eventually, but I confess the garden has been mostly left to fend for itself. Between the chickens, Tiny Hare and the local invading sheep, I've not managed to grow much other than a few courgettes.
Oh, and one raspberry (which was swiped by a passing chicken), and a fairy ring of non-edible mushrooms.
Still, I've had plenty of opportunity to sit in the garden, and even if there's not much edible growing, there is still plenty of lush growth.
The chickens are never far away when I'm outside, and if I sit down with a book they'll often come and join me to sunbathe.
The apples are developing on the trees, and at the end of August everything looked relatively peaceful. I definitely need a more coherent plan for next year though. I've planted seeds in the greenhouse and then not watered them, planted things out and not protected from the chickens, and generally wasted my time and barely grown any food. Sitting around is all very well and good, but I do want to grow things to eat as well.
I'll tidy up over the autumn and winter I think, clear my stock of old (goodness knows how old) seeds, make my beds a bit more raised, install a couple of extra water butts, and make a decent plan. Watch this space.
My last 'in the garden' post was May, which feels like an awfully long time ago now.
We had rather a lot of rain throughout June and July, and also a small period of sun so hot (for round here, anyway) that I wasn't capable of doing anything for several days.
At the start of June, things were looking good. The plum and apple trees both had fruit starting to grow.
Where did it go? There are still some apples, although not as many as there were, but it looks like we won't get any plums at all this year. Did something eat them? A stray sheep, or deer? Or have the chickens perfected the art of precision jumping when I wasn't looking? They've certainly had the gooseberries off the bush - I caught Rusty in the act.
The garden is looking reasonably tidy after a good strimming session.
The chickens are doing a reasonable job of keeping the weeds out of the raised beds - unfortunately they've also accidentally dug up most of what I'd planted in the process.
The beans eventually made it out of the greenhouse and into the ground (after some rather complicated untangling), but sadly they too have fallen victim to the chickens.
I kept meaning to go and buy some kind of mesh, or chicken wire, or something, but never quite got round to it, and it seems a bit late now. One frustrated evening I wound wool between bean poles in an attempt to 'discourage' them, which worked for a few days, but eventually Bessie found her way in and the others swiftly followed.
So I don't think we'll have much veg to speak of this year, and probably not that much fruit either. The windbreak is coming along nicely though (the chickens can't do too much damage in there other than eat the gooseberries).
It looks significantly better in the other direction, and after a bit more strimming.
I have mixed feelings about strimming. I'm not one for a 'tidy' garden (as you can see...) but it is nice to be able to lie on some grass occasionally without it being taller than you. The raised beds feel much less overwhelming when you can see the edges of them. We ignore the drive for the most part, but when the grass from each side starts to meet in the middle then it's time to do something. We do some bits with a scythe, but my scything skills are not up narrow strips of grass alongside dry stone walls, so the strimmer wins for some things.
There are far too many seedlings still in the greenhouse of course. I really do have to work out some kind of better schedule for getting things outside next year. I leave it later than some people as we're so high up and exposed, but then time runs away with me, and I find it's almost August and my tomatoes are still only three inches high.
Oh well. Even if the garden isn't producing much food, it's still providing us with entertainment. We have a young hare who has adopted us, and who spends probably more time than is sensible for a hare in our garden.
We see Tiny Hare most mornings, and often in the evening too, and if we're sitting still it seems quite happy to lope about the garden while we're there. It's found a nice spot behind the plant pot to wash its ears, and often hunkers down there late in the evening too.
Between Tiny Hare, the bank vole that lives in the wall, the woodpeckers, spotted flycatchers, dunnocks, buzzards, and the young robin that's set up home here, there's always plenty to watch, and we often find ourselves sat on the swing seat with a drink in the evening. Who cares about veg anyway?
I did mean to write another post before joining in with this week's Six on Saturday, but somehow time just slipped away. Let's begin with some harvesting this week shall we? I'm delighted to see this round courgette - I was starting to think they wouldn't appear at all.
And more harvesting in and around the greenhouse - two types of tomatoes and two types of beans.
Number three is my willow dome. It's not much of a dome at the minute, but come spring it'll grow into a beautiful, swishing, swirling space to lie in and look at the view. This willow was harvested from our old tiny city garden, where I unwisely planted a willow hedge, then spent several years cutting it incessantly. These wands spent five months living in a bucket of water, so I hope they appreciate their now unlimited space.
Number four is the chicken run, which seems to get both closer and further away from being ready with every passing day. It now has four solid walls, is entirely fox proof (I hope) round the bottom with a two foot skirt of wire dug into the ground, topped with heavy stones. It's painted on the inside, and most of the outside, and just needs a roof. We have all the materials - and we also have 'light rain and a gentle breeze' which turns our corrugated plastic sheets into sails. Sigh.
Still, let's have number five as the chickens, who seem perfectly happy in their temporary home in the stable.
And finally, number six is the teensiest butternut squash I have ever seen. I'm delighted with this too - like the round courgette, I thought it would never happen. Still, it'll have to get a bit bigger before I bother cooking it.
So there we are, a glimpse of my garden this week. Do pop over to The Propagator's blog and see who else has joined in.
This week I'm joining in with Six on Saturday, a weekly cheerful game where people post six things that are happening in their gardens that week.
So here are my six.
This is by far the most exciting thing round here this week.
I've had them six days now and we're all settling in nicely. Mildred is a bossy boots, Luna isn't far behind, Hermione is being stoic down at the bottom of the pecking order, and Maud has a sore foot. Someone keeps kicking over the feeder, and nobody's got the hang of sleeping on a perch yet (although they are now going into the house themselves which is a start).
They're temporarily living in the stable block, which leads us neatly onto...
2. A not-quite-finished chicken run
All the pieces are finished now, we just need to make a few adjustments to the levelling of the base, fit the pieces together, and put enough wire and stones round the bottom to stop the fix getting in. We'd planned to do that this weekend, but sadly it's raining so much it's like being in the shower out there.
3. My sorry looking greenhouse
Oh dear. On the left are nine cucumber plants in too-small pots, which I didn't manage to keep watered enough throughout the heatwave. They still produced plenty of cucumbers though, and we've pickled quite a few. I had to remove the mesh they were growing up to use in the chicken run, and I don't think they're going to recover.
On the right are tomatoes, four I grew from seed and the two larger were given to us by a friend. I clearly haven't got the hang of tomatoes yet, as apparently hers are prolific and glorious, and mine are few and far between. We have had a few yellow ones though. I need to start my own earlier next year.
4. Purple basil
I grew this from seed, and I love it. I like to eat basil, but it's also a beautiful plant, especially now it's flowering. I've put some of the leaves in the freezer but never got round to making pesto. Oh well. I'll definitely be growing plenty of this next year.
I'm growing two types, a red and white speckledy type given to me by my auntie, which has cheery orange and white flowers, and some climbing french beans, which have beautiful lilac flowers. I have nine of each, and they've been reasonably prolific. I've eaten them almost every day but not really had enough to give away or freeze. I'm planning a veritable bean forest next year.
6. Rainbow chard
I love rainbow chard, but mine has languished in too-small pots all summer and only got planted out a couple of weeks ago, after slugs decimated the kale. So far it's holding up.
So there we are, a swift wander round my garden on a soggy autumnal day. If you'd like to see Six on Saturday from other people, head over to The Propogator's blog.
August has been rather soggy in comparison to June and July. The garden has flourished and it's been a month of harvests - cucumbers, yellow courgettes, green beans, basil and a tiny bit of rocket.
We've not had a glut of anything yet, and I don't think we will this year. We eat courgette most days, but I've kept a watchful eye on them so none of them have grown too enormous. We've grown plenty of cucumbers, but we've been picking them small and pickling them (none of the jars of pickles make it past the end of the week though so this isn't a winter storage strategy).
There are plenty of things that haven't done so well. None of the other squashes have even fruited yet, and we've only had a few tomatoes ripen so far. The cucumber plants are looking decidedly yellowy (although still producing plenty of cucumbers). And the kale was completely decimated by caterpillars.
I didn't get round to planting out my poor pot bound rainbow squash until this morning, and I imagine they'll have been munched by slugs by tomorrow.
There's plenty I haven't told you about in this whistlestop tour of our garden in August. The shrivelled tomato plants that never made it past the seedling stage, just stood slowly drying out in the little greenhouse. The tiny woody beetroots, that also never made it out of their seedling pots. Piles of sticks, empty plant pots, tools not put away.
But let's not look back - let's look forward, and with great excitement, because our chickens arrive on Sunday! We're rescuing four ladies through the British Hen Welfare Trust, which rehomes hens who have come to the end of their commercially productive lives and would otherwise be sent to slaughter. Our hens have been producing 'barn eggs' - they've not been in cages, but they also have never been outside. We're daunted (having never been responsible for anything other than ourselves for more than a few days at a time), but we'll do our best to give a few hard worked ladies a cheerful retirement.
Best get on with finishing building their house...
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.
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.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new foray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.