How does my garden grow?

I have noticed that my garden has not been mentioned for quite a long time! Not because it hasn’t taken up much time but because it has looked rather unkempt and nothing dramatic has been happening. However just before the rain came I took some pictures to share with you all along with an update.

2 years ago I grew 3 dahlia plants to see if they grew OK here and if I could keep them overwinter. By bringing the pots into the south facing lean-to greenhouse that adjoins the living room and wrapping the pots in bubble wrap they survived so this year I bought more. Unsure which flower types I would prefer I bought a ‘collection’ of each. There were no labels to say which tuber was which colour so they went into the pots randomly and placed out ditto. They have thrived and although some of the colour combinations are not great they look pretty and colourful. I will try to find a way to label each tuber so I can do more artistic arrangements next year.

The roses have done well too. Most are either over or have got badly scorched in the heat but this one on the West facing end of the shed on the veg patch has bloomed consistently for months. I actually know the variety – danse du feu!

Without a heated propagation space my tomatoes and cucurbits have been slow but at last there are tomatoes formiing and I am just beginning to pick cucumber and courgette

I have picked over 7kg of blackcurrants and made jam, vinegar and bottled them. There is about 1 kg of raspberries in the freezer on top of those I ate. Rhubarb did well too and I could still pick more if I chose. The grape vines are heavy with fruit and even the apple trees, whoch have not produced for several years have some forming. Apricots formed but dropped off whilst still very small – a late frost combined with a broken door on the greenhouse? But the Peach will give us fruit.

I have been able to keep myself in salad leaves for months by using a mixture of foraged and grown. But now there are also sugar snap and maincrop peas and dwarf french beans.

I bought 3 types of carrot seed and Laura planted some of each in a big tub in the greenhouse so we could see which did best. The biggest are almost ready.

In addition to our efforts Nature has helped by self seeding. A large patch of parsley materialised and 3 beds have had a generous crop of volunteer poatoes! Way back I grew some purple skinned ones and discovered the hard way how difficult it is to see them against the soil. The tiny ones particularly escape me and grow again!

So there it is. Untidy, disorganised but generously productive.

Sadly the raised beds are beginning to rot so over the next few years I will need to gradually remove them. They were built for a 6 foot tall man and on the assumption that he and I would work on them for half the week. I am finding it hard to reach the middle of the bed and my energy is not as great as it was then. Even with Laura helping me 2 days a week it is hard to keep on top of things so I will redesign the plot so that it works better for me.

Kelly to the Rescue

We had three power cuts last week on three different days. None of them lasted more than about half an hour but all 3 coincided with me stopping for a cup of tea or coffee. As everything in this house is electric apart from the woodstove that meant no way of boiling a kettle unless I lit the fire and it was far too hot to do that. Luckily I have a Kelly kettle. These cunning devices were reputably invented by an Irish fisherman as a way of brewing hot drinks on a wooden boat in the middle of the sea. They are sometimes called Storm Kettles because they can be used in any weather.

The top part consist of a tube which is the chimney inside another tube enclosing water. This stands on a base which holds the fire. You fill the jacket with water through the spout. The bung keeps the water clean until you are ready to use the ketle but must then be removed or the steam fires it like a missile!

Put paper in the base with a bit sticking out through the air hole and cover it with small pieces of dry wood, stand the top on it and set a match to the paper. Then you feed more bits of wood down the chimney until the water boils. I always have plenty of shavings lying on my workshop floor which are perfect for this but and small dry twigs or kindling will do. Once you have a proper boil lift the top off the fire (an oven glove makes it easier) and use the bung on its chain to tilt the spout so water pours into your teapot or mug. Simple but very effective! I could have boiled just one mugful but I chose to fill the top up to the spout as it is then easier to see that it is boiling and put what I didn’t need into a flask in case the power was a long time coming back on.

Llama, Moo and an Awful Lot of Windows

Last weekend there was a workday for the Carmarthenshire Permaculture groiup at Llama and Moo’s plot in the South of the County. And, No, neither of them had really weird parents who gave them those names – they are nicknames which have stuck. Llama’s came from something on the radio which he and a group of mates were listening to and Moo’s is a shortening of her surname. They are a really lovely couple and if you also read my blog ‘Going Batty in the Woods’ you will have met them here (https://goingbattyinthewoods.wordpress.com/2022/04/07/a-last-hurrah) making gates and a shavehorse for their plot.

A few years ago they bought a gently sloping field graced with 2 dilapidated static caravans and a lot of grass on the outskirts of a large village and began the process of applying for One Plant Development Planning permission, a planning consent unique to Wales which allows for a house to be built in an area not designated for housing if the owners can demonstrate that they will build and live sustainably including obtaining a lot of their needs from their plot. You can read more about it here (https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/the-power-of-a-good-planning-policy). Permission was finally granted just over a year ago. Whilst they were waiting for it they did a lot of work designing what would go where, planting trees and a garden, and accumulating scrap materials with which to build a home and outbuildings. They also clad the better of the 2 caravans with wood to make it less of an eyesore and they use it as their ‘site office’ – somewhere to shelter from showers, have a cuppa or their picnic lunch, and to store materials which cannot tolerate rain. For now they are living in a house in the village until they can build their dream home.

The advantage of being near the village is that there are a number of industrial units in it and these have proved a fruitful source of waste materials. One double glazing firm must have had a contract to replace all the windows in a big building or housing estate because Llama and Moo relieved them of over a thousand UPVC framed, single glazed windows and some double glazed ones which would otherwise have gone to landfill! The best ones will go in their new home. There were several huge ones with blinds between the panes which will make a wall of windows on the South elevation. Some have been carefully split apart to glaze a huge greenhouse on the back of the wood clad static – the greenhouse frame is made of scrap wood too. And some have been joined to make raised beds – now that’s a new one on me! They have also discovered a lot of materials in skips outside houses which are being refurbished. I was quite envious – around here I rarely see a skip and if I do all that is in it is rubble!

I missed the tour because I had to walk Roo before setting off so that when we arrived she was less energetic. But I was in time for the first task which was to form a human chain and move timber from the poorer static which Llama uses as a workshop to another shed and then sort stones, which will form the base of the greeenhouse walls, from lumps of concrete block which will be saved for another job. Then it was time to stop for lunch. We always have a ‘Bring and Share’ lunch and we take our own plates, cutlery and mugs so that our hosts don’t have to provide them or wash up. It always proves to be a feast with masses to eat and time to sit and chat so a lovely social occasion.

In the afternoon we laid cardboard around newly planted Kale which is being grown primarily for seed although any poor specimens will be eaten! A group of smallholders have organised themselves to grow different types of seeds and sell them through a co-operative organisation. You can find them here (http://www.seedhub.wales) The cardboard was then covered with a layer of chipped wood – the way they use any scrap wood not worth saving and deadwood from their field. This mulch will reduce the amount of weeding required and eventually rot down and enrich the soil.

We all left at about 4pm, tired, but having had a lovely day with friends and with plenty to show for our efforts.

A touch of normality

My friend Marie runs a beautiful guesthouse near the coast between Cardigan and Aberystwyth. A very old farmhouse had a new Front added in Georgian times and must have been quite something with its day with its walled garden, stables and huge pleasure garden. But by the time Marie bought it its was in serious need of an upgrade inside and the garden was badly overgrown. A group of her friends volunteered to come for a weekend to help clear the brambles and ‘Slash and Burn’ was born. Twice a year until Covid intervened anyone who felt like a weekend of hard work but in a beautiful place with great (vegetarian) food was invited to help. I have been going for several years but as I live locally and have the dogs and cats to consider I just go for one of the days. It is huge fun working with a team some of whom I know from previous years and some I have never met before. The house is now warm and comfortable and the gardens beautiful but still with plenty of wildness. Take a look at the website https://overtherainbowwales.co.uk/

The house had been in the same family for generations but one by one parts of the estate had been sold until the last surviving member had only the gatehouse lodge which he used as a holiday home and the walled garden which was next to Marie’s vegetable patch. A few years ago he decided to sell the walled garden and Marie took the chance to buy it. In amongst the old apple trees were self seeded Ash and Sycamore which were, by this time, mature. The box hedging which edged the original beds was 20 feet high. The archway in was crumbling and the walls covered in ivy.

So for the last few years each ‘slash and burn’ has included work on the walled garden and this, the first since Covid struck, was no exception. Of course, Marie, her partner Rose, their indefatigable neighbour Andrew and their friend Hannah who volunteered throughout one winter, have done the bulk of the work. The self seeded trees, have been grubbed up, the box cut back severely, the ground cleared, the arch repaired and it is now a fruit garden. An old polytunnel frame has become a fruit cage, the box is recovering, and the bottom picture is not a graveyard but supports for raspberry canes!

In the meantime Marie and Rose took over a local business Fox Hill preserves making and selling jams, marmalades and chutneys so a flourishing fruit garden is exactly what they need. You can find them here https://www.welshfoodanddrink.wales/listing/foxhill-preserves/

Being there has been like being inside the children’s book ‘The Secret Garden’!

Signs of (a rather confused) Spring

There are hazel catkins out everywhere in the hedgrows and my garden but these on the purple cobnut are particularly spectacular

The snowdrops under the trees at the entrance are out – a few days late but very welcome. There are crocus in the stream garden but very bedraggled so I didn’t take a photo.

In the protection of the lean-to greenhouse on the South wall of the house the daffs and narcissi are cooming into bloom. The ones outside are well in bud.

The early rhubarb is coming up. It has tried before so I hope this time we don’t have a cold snap to set it back again.

A rather blurry photo – sorry – and it is too wet outside to go and take another! But I hope you can see the colour beginning to show on the Apricot in the top greenhouses.

The calendula and feverfew have kept blooming all winter in the top greenhouses though the plants are very straggly now.

The birds are tuning up too. Definitely the start of Spring!

Cinderella’s Carriage?

Way back in Spring many of my tender seeds did not germinate because, unbeknownst to me, my heated bench had stopped working and they were too cold. Several lovely people came to the rescue with spare seedlings including a friend of Laura’s who gave us 2 pumpkin plants. I had never grown pumpkins but knew they grew very big and liked lots of muck. There is one raised bed which is heavily infested with nettles and we had just put a thick layer of cardboard on it then a good layer of cow manure. I had intended to cover it with either more cardboard or weed suppressant fabric and leave it for a year. But needs must so in went the 2 baby plants. One died but the other thrived and not only filled the bed but migrated into the comfrey patch next to it! Eventually we spotted fruits forming but they all seemed to drop off. Then hidden under a layer of leaves on the path we saw a bigger one and then another at the end of another vine.

Last week we decided to harvest the earliest one as it was orange all over and I had visions of it being eaten by rodents if we left it any longer.

You can just see the second one at the back – orange on top but still green at the base.

We managed to get it into the barrow and brought it down to house level to weigh it. The only way to do that was for me to stand on the bathroom scales (Laura refused to do this because she didn’t want to know how much weight she has put on!) and then repeat with the pumpkin in my arms. I couldn’t hold it for long but as best we can tell it weighs in at 23 kilos. (52 lbs or 3 1/2 stone)

There are still a few nettles in the bed but for the most part the pumpkin has out-competed them. I wonder if it works on bind weed? We will save some of the seeds and experiment.

Scrap Happy October

Tidying up my workshop and woodshed I discovered that I had accumulated, for who knows where, 3, yes 3 kitchen sinks! Actually the one in the shed on the veg patch is never used so make that 4. If I put another kitchen / utility room in anywhere am I really going to use a shabby old sink? No!

The inspiration struck. Sinks are intended to hold water and I need more small ponds in my garden to attract wildlife. A small hole, some scrap wood to build up the sides a bit, a new pond liner (the scrap I was going to use was too small and had got torn) and here it is.

It obviously needs more pebbles on the draining board. Nice round seashore pebbles not the rough ones from around the garden or out of the stream. I persuaded my friend Lindy (It wasn’t hard!) to take a trip to the seaside to have a walk on the beach and collect some. Just after this photo was taken a rogue wave came in and I got water in one wellie! Walking on the beach with one wellie sloshing and my pockets weighed down with pebbles had us both in stitches. It is going to take a few more trips to get enough to finish this job – a hard job but someone has to do it!

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. The links below are to the amazingly creative contributors who make interesting things out of scraps that most people would throw away.

Kate (me!)Gun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
KerryClaireJeanJon, HayleyDawn,
Gwen, Bekki, Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin,
Vera, NanetteAnn, NancyDawn 2, Noreen,
Bear, Carol, Preeti and Edith

Ker-ching! A Penny drops!

There were some lovely comments on my last post about the blanket I was making to use up those little balls of wool that every knitter accumulates. The ‘granny squares’ are not all the same size necessitating strips and stripes and extra rounds to make them fit together and the colours are multiple and varied – yet the effect is cheerful and lively and most of you loved it as do I. Why?

Looking around my home and at the assorted handmade blankets in my cupboard I realised that the pieces I like best are the scrappy ones – the patchworks (usually fairly random) and the multicoloured. Partly this is because they will fit in with any colour scheme, adding both pattern and a hit of colour to the space. So in that sense they are very practical – change the decor? No problem!

Musing during a dog walk (as you do!) two memories from childhood came into my head.

The first concerned my childhood heroine; the woman I wanted to be like when I grew up. My Mum’s eldest, and much older, sister Aunty Nan. Nan and her husband Francis were childless (not by choice – as she said ‘In our day if it didn’t happen it didn’t happen and there was nothing you could do about it’) which meant that she had not given up work to raise her family. By the time I was old enough to remember them they were both lecturers at Alsager Teacher Training College near Newcastle-under-Lyme and lived in half a very long Nissen hut on the campus left over from World War 2. Francis headed up Rural Studies and Nan taught Craft. I found Francis slightly intimidating and when we visited he and my Dad would talk bees which they both kept. Nan would always find something crafty for me to do so that she and Mum could cook and talk. Later they bought 3 adjoining building plots where a new estate was being developed and had a bungalow built. Nan was furious that the architect would only talk to Francis even though she was the more artistic and better at design! She was even sidelined during the discussion of the kitchen! It was a beautiful home, very up to date in its furnishings and, of course, with Francis being an expert gardener, set in a fabulous garden. But what I really loved was their very early VW Dormobile.

Francis’s passion for bees meant he was not content with keeping a few hives of honey bees. He was really a thwarted academic and one of his good friends was Alan Gemmell (If you are old enough and live in the UK you may remember Professor Alan Gemmell of Keele University from Gardener’s Question Time. Prof’s passion was potatoes). So every summer he and Nan would spend the long vacation travelling Europe so he could collect wild bees and identify them. He had a cabinet of shallow drawers in his study with serried ranks of bees filed according to their latin name.

To make these expeditions easier, especially when he had exhausted Western Europe and started exploring behind the Iron Curtain, they got the Dormobile. To me it was a playhouse on wheels! And in it were blankets made by Nan on those journeys. She would take a pair of double pointed knitting needles – the short ones used for socks – and odd balls of wool so that she had some knitting to do in the evenings or while she was sitting in a field somewhere half watching Francis stalk his prey. Squares were easy to carry around or store in the van. Some were plain but lots were stripey or half and half. Sometimes the wool was thinner than she would have liked so she would use 2 colours together making a tweedy effect. Those blankets were part of the magic of the van for me. So very different from the contents of her house or of any of the other houses I knew.

The second memory was of a couple whose names I cannot remember but they were members of the Manchester and District Beekeepers Association, of which my Dad was Treasurer. The Association met once a month for most of the year. In the winter they rented a room somewhere for an evening and had ‘talks’ about bees and related subjects. But in the summer there were ‘Apiary visits’. One member would host the rest for an afternoon wherever they kept their bees. One of the more experienced members, often my father, would go through the hives explaining what they were doing, what they were looking for and why. If the bees needed extra space or a super full of honey needed to be taken away then that would be done. So winter was for theory and summer for practical. And on Apiary visits families were invited along too. There were a couple of single women who kept bees, a couple who did it jointly but most of the keepers were men. So the families consisted of wives and a few children who would sit around on deckchairs as far away from the hives as possible and chat. Everyone would take a picnic tea and once the hives were safely put back together again the beekeepers would join us and the host (or more usually the host’s wife!) would make cups of tea. It was a nice way to spend a summer afternoon and most of the gardens were delightful.

My Dad when he was young with his bees

The couple I am thinking of hosted a visit every year but not in their garden – I never knew where they lived in winter. Every summer they would decamp to a field where he kept his bees and where they had 2 old railway wagons. One was where he stored all his bee equipment and extracted his honey – a dim space which I always tried to get into at some point to enjoy its scent of wood, wax and honey. The other was where they lived with two single beds arranged in an L shape at the end furthest from the door, each covered with a multicoloured, home made blanket, a small table and 2 hard chairs and a rudimentary kitchen with a camping stove. Outside was a compost toilet and another table with a washing up bowl on it and a tap on a post behind it. The field was on a hill and there was an amazing view over the valley. I knew of no-one else who lived like that – it was like being in a story!

One huge granny square!

I suppose that from those 2 experiences I came to associate blankets like the one I am working on with a simple life, being unconventional, having adventures but also with being cosy and self-sufficient. No wonder I like them so much – by making them I am constructing my very own magic carpet of the imagination, opening up possibilities of adventures and new ways of living!

Things are looking up

A fairly disastrous start to my garden had me feeling rather dejected but at last the sunny days/ frosty nights weather has given way to the usual ‘chilly with varying amounts of rain’ variety. Not nearly as nice for working in but better for growing.

I brought the trays of tender seeds indoors and put them on the living room windowsill. The window faces due South and there is a radiator underneath. At last some have germinated.

these are cucurbits of various kinds and peppers – sweet and hot.

I planted a net of first early potatoes – some outdoors and some in large pots in the lean-to greenhouse on the South wall of the house. The outside ones have kept trying to send up shoots and been nipped by frost despite a heavy mulch of paper so none have shoots more than 2 inches tall. In the greenhouse they are almost ready to flower!

Last year I ordered some plants and when they arrived a free gift of a few dahlia tubers had been included. I was hesitant because in the past slugs have munched every dahlia that put a shoot above the soil. But they were free so I put them out in pots and they came up well. In the Autumn I brought the pots into the lean-to greenhouse, stood them on bubble wrap and tied more round the pots then added a layer of shredded paper to the top. They have come back well.

Everything will be late but there should be some things to eat from the garden!

Indoors I have been decorating my bedroom. In this slightly weird old cottage that meant doing the stairs as well – we knocked 3 small bedrooms and the landing into one generous room so the door is at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t realise that DIY stores were fully open (in my world they are useful but not essential) so I ordered paint online for collection. I knew that the colour I saw on my screen was not accurate – would I like it when I saw it on the walls? Should I order tester pots first? Since Carmarthen is 20 miles away I decided to risk it. It is paint. If I didn’t like it I could buy another can in a different colour and go over it again. I did however invest in some good quality paint that promised to cover any previous colour in one coat. So

From this

To

One friend’s reaction was ‘Oooh! You’ll have to be properly grown up now!’

I thought the pale colour would be a lilac grey and it is bluer than I expected but actually I am happy with it.

On the rut jumping front I have continued trying to expand the range of foods I eat. Yesterday I picked a large handful of ‘greens’ which included old favourites chard and wild garlic, shoots of asparagus kale which I grew for the first time last year and have been picking leaves from all winter, but also dandelion leaves and vine leaves. I had thought that dandelions had to be blanched under a flowerpot but Carolee (https://herbalblessingsblog.wordpress.com ) assured me they didn’t. I chopped all the leaves and sauteed the whole lot in a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and they were delicious. Today I have made Soda Bread (from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking), Blinis (from Michael Mosley’s The Clever Guts Diet) and Oatcakes (from The River Cottage Handbook No 3 – Bread by Daniel Stevens).

On the crafting front – wait for Scrap Happy!

At long last we are able to start meeting up with friends, have workdays and non-essential shops are open. Yesterday I met friends in Cardigan to have coffee. As it was fine there were more people out and about than usual. We cannot yet go inside but the Council has reduced the High Street to one lane allowing cafes to put chairs and tables out on the pavements and spill onto the side of the road. It wasn’t ideal with delivery lorries trundling past but a big step towards normality!

The other thing that has lifted my spirits is that my son plans to move nearer to me. He no longer needs to be able to commute to London every day but instead will be working from home most of the time. His job in IT is stressful and his health is suffering. Moving out of an urban environment should help him relax. His wife, who has very little experience of living in the country, prefers to stay put so for now he will buy somewhere small, but big enough for her and their adult children to visit, and split his time between here and there. That way she can try living down here (very different from staying with your M-I-L!) and see if she likes it after all. I have been helping him house hunt and he has made an offer on a place he saw the other side of Carmarthen from me. Of course there are many things that can go wrong between offer and moving in but knowing that he will buy that or another place soon and I will be able to see more of him is lovely.

Ups and Downs in the Garden

I have realised that it is quite some time since I posted anything – not because I haven’t done anything worth mentioning but because I have been too busy doing things to have time to write about them! This easing of restrictions is lovely but now I have to fit more things into my days!

In particular I haven’t posted about the garden for ages. Mainly because it started disastrously! Laura and I sowed tender things on the heated bench in mid March and waited… and waited… until eventually I realised that the bench wasn’t working. The power light is on so it must be either the thermostat or the soil warming cable. When Mr and Mrs Snail visited Mr Snail offered to come with his meter and work out which. But it is too late for those early seeds so we we tried again – this time putting them on the house windowsills. Some are coming up but not as many or as quickly as I had hoped.

In the greenhouse we diligently fertilised the apricot and peach trees with a little brush every day. Loads of fruit set. Then we had a sharp frost which I hadn’t expected and all the little apricots shrivelled and fell off – every one! The peach seemed to fare better but still has dropped quite a few. I am hoping the remaining ones will swell.

rather out of focus – my phone doesn’t like close-ups!

That frost was the first of several the most recent being Sunday night. So seeds we sowed outside are still hunkered down – at least I hope they are and that they will germinate when the weather improves. The days, of course, have been glorious which has meant a lot of watering!

I was beginning to feel pretty despondent but Jono gave me some parsley seedlings, I spotted some sweet pepper and chilli seedlings in the supermarket, Rachel gave me a couple of cucumber plants and I found tomato plants in the zero waste shop in Cardigan. Michelle was offered some surplus onions sets and there were more than they needed so I had a kilo. Now some of the perennials and some of the greenhouse plants are braving the temperature extremes and coming up so maybe it will come right in the end.

Jono’s parsley not exactly thriving but not dying either!

I have had one rhubarb crumble already. The buckler leaf sorrel is popping up in several places. Jerusalem artichokes are pretty indestructible!

The garlic went in last autumn and isn’t growing at present but is hanging on. Early potatoes in the greenhouse are doing OK. The crab apple trees between the house and the workshop were overgrown with weeds and brambles but we did a lot of work on that area over winter and they are flowering – Hurray!

Somewhat erratic germination of carrots in the greenhouse – I’m sure I sprinkled the seed more evenly than that! I managed to root some watercress from a supermarket pack and now it is growing outside in a sheltered spot. The beetroot were sown in the lower greenhouse last year and did nothing but have now come up!

I helped prune a circle of willows at Dyfed Permaculture Farm and brought some of the rods home to take cuttings. They have done very well! The plant on the right is Asparagus Kale which I tried for the first time last year. I have been picking leaves all winter and now they are producing lots of flower shoots which are just like purple sprouting broccoli. The plants being shorter than PSB fit better in my garden so the buds which flower before I can eat them I will allow to set seed for future sowings.

So a slow start but not all is lost.

And because there is no such thing as too much cuteness pictures of me with a bottle fed lamb at Dyfed Permaculture Farm and 3 baby goats born whilst I was visiting my friends Rachel and Ian.

The red light on the baby goats is from a heat lamp. They were born in the field, their Mum having refused to go into the maternity pen, but as dusk fell the family was moved there willy nilly in a wheelbarrow! By the way I have had my hair cut since the lamb photo you will be pleased to hear!