In the garden

It’s been another whole month passed without a post. Oops.

Rather than one big long post of everything I’ll spilt up some of the updates into separate posts. So here is what has been happening in the garden.

After turning the spare room (south facing, large window) into a greenhouse during lockdown we actually needed the spare room as a bedroom again so the tomatoes, chillies and peppers which had been doing really well in there needed to be moved. My mini greenhouse which has been excellent for germinating all of my seeds since February but has required a fair bit of shoring up / repairing and TLC was finally emptied of everything except a couple of trays of salad and some courgettes.

I’d bought a replacement plastic cover as the original was in tatters after several repairs so Scarlett and I untangled all the tomatoes which had grown into each other, repotted some which had grown into monsters and then carefully moved them into the greenhouse. We created a criss cross of twine for the trailing stems to be supported on, put trays to stand the pots in and water from and removed some of the side shoots which were not going to be productive. There were several flowers and even one tiny green tomato forming. Since the move I’ve been feeding them and have lots more unripe fruits and lots more flowers. Hopefully the slightly more breezy location outside and the pollinating bugs who can get in will help with a bigger crop.

We did the same with the chillies and peppers although there are no flowers on them yet but the plants are looking nice and healthy. I can always bring them back inside if it starts to get too cold for them out there.

The first sowing of salad leaves which we had been cutting and harvesting regularly had finally gone over. Some of the lettuces had bolted and gone to seed so I left the flowers to form seed heads before I picked them off and left them to dry out. I bought them in and have had them in a paper bag on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks until they are fully dried out. They are now stashed away ready to try sowing next year.

The strawberries have pretty much finished fruiting and flowering. Whatever variety I have (they came from about 10 tiny plants I bought several years ago on Rum and let throw out runners each year, splitting and transplanting them many times.) are obviously early season ones. The plants are flourishing and have sent out plenty of runners here in their bed so I’m hopeful of a good harvest next year. This year has been a fairly small crop but we’ve certainly enjoyed strawberries and cream, strawberries and meringues and strawberries in sponge cakes enough to more than justify the space in the garden and the tiny amount of looking after the plants have required this year. There are a couple of small brambles making themselves at home in the garden which I am actively encouraging too in the hopes of some blackberries later this year.

I have enjoyed mixed success in my raised beds. One has a bumper crop of peas in the middle. I have already harvested about 10kg of mange tout, sugar snap and peas including the ones picked off by various people in the household to eat like sweets. The plants grew way higher than any I’ve ever grown before and my hazel twigs to support them were very quickly outgrown as a pea forest emerged. I had such good germination rates than I soon lost track of which variety was which and stuck all the different ones in together. Next year I would space my succession sowings out a bit more, be stricter about keeping sugar snap and other varieties a bit more separate and give them rather more ambitious stakes to clamber up.

The reverse is true for my beans! No one other than Ady likes broad beans or runner beans here so I’d gone for fine green beans / dwarf beans / french beans. I had created a lovely arch for them which clearly gave them an inferiority complex and they are barely 10cm tall. They have been mostly eaten by slugs but I note a few flowers and tiny beans just holding their heads above ground level. So I may have sufficient harvest for one portion for one person as long as they are not too hungry!

The other crop in that bed appears to be inhabiting a cursed bit of ground. My early hopes for a chinese cabbage crop were dashed by them reaching for the sky and bursting into beautiful yellow flowers. Despite cutting off the flowers regularly the plants just kept throwing them out which was an obvious siren call to the slug population who came and ate all the leaves. I have since learned that I perhaps sowed them a little early, which coupled with the early heat wave meant they had little hope anyway.

I pulled out the sad remaining stalks and replaced them with some promising looking pumpkin and other squash plants consoling myself that at least I had space for them. The slugs heard me and laughed. Which is rude… laughing with their mouths full….there is no remaining evidence of my pumpkins or squash plants.

Ditto the cabbages I lovingly sowed, pricked out, tended to suitable established little plants and put out next to the peas. The same fate befell the first row of rainbow chard I had grown from seed. I bought some replacements from a friend who is setting up a gardening / plant selling business. So far there are still two small rainbow chard plants…

In the other raised bed I have about 10 cauliflowers. 1 has a head, none have many leaves but as we don’t eat the leaves anyway I remain ever optimistic that there may be some cauliflower yet to arrive on a human plate.

Then are several rows of leeks. We love leeks. I’ve never managed to grow them beyond spring onion size despite having tried in my allotment in Sussex, on the croft on Rum and now here. The current crop is the most successful I have managed so far. They look more like onions than spring onions which is a step beyond what I’ve reached previously. I have hopes for my leeks.

I have a small row of carrots next. Carrots are barely ever worth growing I suspect. They need so much spacing, are so vulnerable to carrot fly and sadly are so cheap to buy in the supermarket. But they are never as sweet as home grown ones and the smell of freshly pulled carrots is so intoxicating it’s worth it. You can see why carrot flies love them…

I have several rows of lettuce and salad next. That is not strictly true actually. I have the sad stalks of several rows of lettuce and salad next along with a marker telling me in my own fair hand that there should be lettuce and salad leaves. The slugs can obviously read my writing though. And they got there first.

Finally at the end of that bed is the broccoli. A firm favourite of Ady and Scarlett. The broccoli in much the same style as the Chinese cabbage has been shooting up tall stalks and flowers every single bloody day. And we all know who sees those pretty flowers and texts all their mates to come along and join the broccoli leaf eating party don’t we?

This is the first year for the beds. They are filled with rotted horse manure from our neighbours. I have a plan to add some additional material once the crops are done. I have some home made compost maturing, access to plenty of seaweed and may well add some more manure to mature over the winter along with some leaf mulch in the autumn. I will un-net the beds and let the chickens in to help turn over the soil gently and add some of their own weeding and manuring skills too through the winter.

I have experimented with a few new crops I’d not tried before and have been slightly scuppered by the extreme heat wave in early spring and the late frosts of early summer but I’ve learned loads and will have a better idea to start a sowing and growing plan for next year now.

The real menace though has been the slugs. I have previously not battled with them to such a degree anywhere else but there is a HUGE resident slug population here. It’s wet with high rainfall and just outside the garden is croftland with huge amounts of bracken covered land providing perfect slug habitat. I have tried heading out as dusk falls collecting slugs and regularly gathered in excess of 100 a night.

I have had a go at a few slug repelling ideas including coffee, eggs shells, copper and sheep fleece around certain plants. The only one which I would consider even slightly successful was the sheep fleece, fortunately I have easy access to more of that so may try that again next year.
I have also, after advice from lots of friends applied a treatment of nematodes. I’ll do another one in six weeks or so and then start again in the early spring next year.

I have also established a small wildlife pond. It is an old shower tray from a friend set into some long grass with lots of stones around it. Flyaway grass clippings from the lawn have created a nice layer of sediment and a couple of lillies swiped from a nearby freshwater lochan have taken. We had rescued some frogspawn from a drying out ditch earlier in the year and been watching them grow into tiny tadpoles and then froglets in a tank in our bathroom before releasing them into the pond. There are all sorts of tiny creatures already attracted to it and this weekend Scarlett returned from a walk to the beach carrying one of her shoes as she had rescued a toad struggling on the shore of the saltwater loch and bought it home. It hung out in the pond for a few hours and although I’ve not spotted it since I am hoping it will choose to hang around the garden – there is plenty of food and shelter for it here.

We have lots of nice little wild corners where we may even attract snakes or slow worms all of whom will help keep the slug population in check too. Finally I will also look at some more companion planting or sacrificial crops next year. A working with nature, multi pronged approach to managing a balance between not all of my efforts being slug food and not destroying nature with too much interference either.

My garden endeavours have been far from all doom and gloom though. The end of a sack of potatoes which had chitted before we got to eating them got chucked in some more rotted manure in sacks on the decking. I have pretty much neglected them ever since other than earthing them up every time they peeked through. The plants absolutely thrived with us questioning more than once whether they were even potatoes as they took on triffid like proportions, growing ever taller and stronger but not yet flowering.

Eventually curiosity got the better of us so last week we emptied out one of the sacks. We were delighted to harvest a whole bucket of potatoes and have left the other two sacks to carry on with their mutant growing. We had a lovely dinner last week of eggs from our chickens (some of us ate them in the form of quiches, other purists just had them scrambled) served with our own tatties and peas.

Mutant potatoes and pea forests aside though my biggest success this year has been my decking project. The decking runs around two sides of the house and is a lovely place to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine, watch stars, sit around the fire pit or have a cup of tea / cold beer. We use the space most days and while the view is stunning I felt the environment could be prettied up a bit. I am also ever conscious of helping bees and other pollinators. So I have been collecting pots, planters and containers, some of which are new, some are recycled and others have been collected from the beaches on our litter walks. I’ve decorated some of them with shells and stones (with various degrees of success and entertainment value) and created a whole ‘wall’ of different layers, shapes, colours and sizes of containers. I’ve then filled them with a whole load of flowers and herbs. Some have been grown from seed like cornflowers, sunflowers, gerbera, borage, petunia, nasturtium, dill, basil, chives, coriander, sage, thyme and fennel. Some have been bought, either as tiny plug plants on online sales or reduced in the supermarkets as ailing end of season bargains including oregano, fushia, rosemary, lavender, mint. I also bought some nigella, cosmos and nicotiana from my friend.

I’ve done a lot of rearranging and moving things about but am delighted with how it looks and smells as the flowers start to burst into bloom. Even on a miserable day there is always double figure numbers of pollinators buzzing about feeding from the flowers, we are able to nip out and gather herbs for cooking and Scarlett and I gathered a load of the early flowers to sugar coat and decorate a cake with. Some of the pots will obviously be annuals so next year will bring a whole new opportunity for different colours, themes and arrangements.

Our chickens continue to entertain us and provide us with a very steady supply of lovely free range eggs. I think all 8 of the hens have taken a turn at going broody this summer but we don’t want or need any more chicks so we have so far managed to find any hen sitting on a clutch of eggs and evict her. They may outsmart us yet though and I would not be entirely surprised to look out of the window at some point and spot a proud mumma hen leading a tribe of fluffy little chicks.

The garden has given me a lot of joy this spring and summer. There are constraints to being in a rented house (not in terms of what I am able to do, our landlords are lovely and happy for us to do anything in the garden, just in terms of what I want to invest time and money into when I know it is not our forever space) and the climate both in terms of the local area and the planet have not always been on my side, not to mention those slugs. But staying connected to nature, being outside in the elements, staying active, celebrating the victories and eating the results more than make up for any of the small down sides.

One thought on “In the garden”

  1. Thanks Nic and the extended Goddards,

    very reflective, I was watching your garden grow with interest, given how far north you are. I’m making the most of my greenhouse (extra protection, so a longer season) and still keeping various neighbours fed with tomatoes and salad leaves.

    As much as I shared your enjoyment of meeting other households – we in Leicester have NEVER been able to meet indoors since 23rd March! and it was only 14 days when we could have a single friend or couple in our own gardens or visit anyone else in their garden.
    So I can go to the pub on my own, but not sit at a table with anyone else, same inside a cafe. Can’t have a friend sit at 2m away in my own garden, but we can go to our local park with all the car fumes, iffy ciggies and litter around, which none of us want to do!

    It’s got to me this week and that “missing friends” sentiment is still true for many people in Leicester. Just a shame not many have ever observed social distancing in shops and out of 16 people in my local shop the other day (should have been 7) only one came out wearing a mask. I was sat on a wall waiting until several people came out, so just I and a school girl were wearing masks out of nearly 20 people. Which is why we still have a death a day in Leicester from Covid!

    All it’s done is make me follow the Rum new houses story more closely and want to move away from here as soon as I can. Hence following your posts. Thanks to all of you. Stay well and safe and being creative, it encourages me whilst being “locked up in Leicester”.

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