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!

A Quick Update on Trees from Seed

If you have been following this blog for a while you may remember I posted about growing trees from seed (read it again here). None of the Apricots which had germinated in the fridge survived but 3 more sprouted after I put them in compost in the greenhouse and they seem to be thriving. And a cherry picked from a tree in my daughter’s garden has germinated too. The fruit on her tree are so bitter that they are inedible and even the birds leave them alone! It is therefore very ornamental with spring blossom and beautiful crimson fruit which hangs there for ages.

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What has been really impressive is the apple pips. I have no idea how many I had saved but so far I have pricked out 138 plants, no that is not a typo! And there are lots more still in the trays but ready to go into pots. These are, of course, unknown crosses so there is no way of knowing whether they will be crabs, cider, cooker, eater or just horrible. Not all will survive but they will fill quite a lot of space and as I have chalara on the Ash trees they will be welcome.

Getting Ready for Spring

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The arrival of my seeds and the compost plus reading some other bloggers’ lists of jobs to do at this time of year set me thinking. I have 5 greenhouse – yes, I know, greedy! 3 are end to end on the veg patch and replaced a polytunnel, one is the lean-to on the South wall of the house built primarily to give solar gain and protection without the expense of a conservatory, and the 5th is near the West end of the house beyond the conservatory and is where I raise seedlings which then get planted out elsewhere. It has staging which includes a big trough filled with sand and heated by a soil warming cable. With surrounds of twin wall plastic and bubble wrap this acts as a big propagator. But I have never got the storage of plant pots right and the workbench is too small. Time for a rethink.

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Some years ago I wanted to make a secure area for poultry behind the house so built a small shed for pots outside the greenhouse with a tall gate hung on it. Because it was constructed from bits I had lying around the gate opens the wrong way and makes access difficult. The walls are not solid and there are trees on the bank above so water and dead leaves get in and make the clean pots dirty and slimy – something I had not thought about before I built it. I could rebuild or modify the walls and rehang the gate but as I no longer keep poultry this whole assembly could go if I could find another home for the pots.

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Before I built the shed some were stored in the shed on the veg patch which was where we originally did sowing and some were under the staging, but I got fed up of having to traipse up the hill to fetch ones from the shed or bend down and scrabble underneath the propagator to find ones there. However that space under the staging was wasted – could I find a better way to store pots there? My first idea was to buy some of those plastic boxes on wheels. They proved expensive and did I actually need the lids? If they were hinged they would mean I had to pull the box right out to open them and if loose they would end up knocking around somewhere being a nuisance. Hmmm. Creativity required!

A good rummage in my sheds (I have a lot of those too which panders to my hoarding instincts!) revealed a rectangular plastic washing basket discarded because of a cracked base but OK for holding light things, 2 plastic boxes from when Safeway experimented with self check-out but discontinued it (They sold out to Morrisons years ago so goodness knows how old those boxes are), a stack of bakers trays bought as a job lot at auction donkeys years ago and used to store potatoes or apples, and some 10 litre canisters (bought with contents and saved when empty) which are actually too heavy to move easily when filled with liquid but could be cut down and given a makeshift handle. A bit of sorting and almost all the things in the shed are now under the staging in containers that should be easy to pull out when I need something.

 

What struck me was how much of my equipment is recycled. I buy refurbished tools from the Eco-shop in Cardigan or ones made for Tools for Self Reliance. Instead of plug trays I use a collection of cut down probiotic drink pots and old waste pipe inside mushroom punnets. Those pots and pipe have been in use for at least 10 years and whilst a few get lost or broken every year the majority soldier on. The pipe was taken out when we refurbished the house. Because we were doing the work ourselves, and living in the house whilst it all went on, we had to install the new kitchen and bathroom before the old ones were taken out so got left with lots of odd lengths of used pipe. Beans and peas are sown in newspaper pots in mushroom trays from C&M organics who cannot return them. Small pots are cream or yoghurt cartons or gifts or ones which came with plants in. Only some of the larger ones were actually bought!

That leaves the workspace problem but in my excavations (yes it did feel like an archeological dig!) in the sheds I found a small drop-leaf table which could go at the end of the central bed and give me extra space – one bench for filling pots and another for sowing and labelling. Moving the table will have to wait until I can use both hands but there is no rush. Only time will tell if I have now solved the problems but I am optimistic!