Friday, 28 October 2016

Covering up

What a blessing it has felt to have such mild weather at the end of October. I have spent a part of each day this week in the garden, some days more than others, but I've enjoyed every moment that I've been outside.

A local tradesman has been applying rendering to the external wall of our bathroom this week. When we bought the house the previous owners were going to put cladding on the small extension, but as it would have been the only part of the house with cladding on it, we asked them to leave it as blockwork and agreed that we'd get it rendered. Moving in during the stormy winter months, it didn't get done for the first few months, but we were keen not to let it sit exposed to the rain and wind for a second winter. So a couple of weeks ago, I got several quotes for the job and the local plasterer completed the job this today. And it looks great!

What surprised me about the rendering task was the difference in the quotes that I received. I asked four local tradesmen for a quote for the job, each was given the same information about what we wanted done, but the quotes were wildly varying. Three of the quotes were for over £800 and the last quote was for a little over £310. Needless to say, I declined the higher quotes and saved us well over £500. Normally at this point, I would rant about why tradespeople feel it's okay to charge so much for a job when clearly it can be done for less than half the price, but I guess I must be mellowing as I don't want to waste my energy getting cross about it.

Outside I have continued to move wood chippings into the young Food Forest to cover the pathways and build up layers on the planted areas. 
 The planting beds have now had the weed suppressing membrane cut away from them, cardboard placed on the ground and composted wood chippings and topsoil put on top of the cardboard. 
 I've placed wood around the edges of two of the beds which should rot down over the next few years, but in the meantime will provide some definition and support for the wood chippings as I build up the depth of the beds.
 I also placed some sticks in the body of this planting bed, they will add to the compost in time, but it was a useful way to dispose of some of the larger twigs and sticks that we have lying around.

Then the fruit and herb plants were planted. I had intended to leave the membrane down for a couple of years and then lift it around the plants that have been planted through the membrane, but I changed my mind and decided that doing this process now would stop the plants from being disturbed after they have put down a good root system. The Food Forest area is now about 30 feet by 70 feet and I'm very pleased with how it is beginning to look.

I've started to plant the trees that we bought last week. I've put in two cherries, a plum and three apple trees and have decided where the others will be planted. The soil is so poor and the ground highly compacted, so digging the hole for each tree is taking far longer than I'd like it to. I've also discovered two self-sown plum trees, one of which I think is a mirabelle (because of where it is growing). I'm using RootGrow mycorrhizal granules on the roots in the hope that this will help the trees settle into their new places more rapidly. The trees that are planted through the membrane and have chippings around them won't have to compete with weeds, but those planted into the other parts of the paddock are at risk of being swamped by clover, thistles or stinging nettles. So I have placed cardboard around them and covered it in a deep layer of wood chippings (taking care that it isn't touching the stem).

I've also continued to build up the layers of material on the most recent raised bed in the vegetable garden. Today I have added a layer of composted straw and brewery grains which have spent the summer in a compost bay with some summer squash growing on the heap. They aren't completely rotted down yet as I can still see some of the grains and the straw, but they are mostly decomposed and can continue to break down on the raised bed. The last layer to go on to the raised bed will be some topsoil, but the heap of topsoil got very wet in the rain last week and I've found it very heavy to move, so the final layer will have to be moved little by little as I have energy or will have to wait until Mr J can help me.

Elsewhere on the smallholding, the young chickens and ducks continue to grow but the chickens have all but stopped laying. Diesel is still laying around five eggs per week, Jack stopped laying some weeks ago and is now in full moult and starting to look rather sad for herself. The Cream Legbars have also stopped laying and are just starting to moult. For the winter period we have moved the Cream Legbars back into the main chicken field so that they can sleep in the large shed with the rest of the birds. This has two advantages, that more bodies in the shed will help keep it warmer and that there will be fewer houses for me to muck out. 

The Australorps will stay in their own section of the field until they are less in number. We currently have one female and six young males in the Australorp field and over the next couple of weeks Mr J and I will decide which two we will keep for breeding and the others will be our meat birds for the next couple of months. The young female and two males will either join the flock in the main field or we will move them, together with the older female Australorp to a new site on the smallholding.

Next week we are due to have some leggy trees cut down and removed from behind the piggeries, which will give us another area that the chickens could move into. I am quite keen to let the Australorps run through the area behind the piggeries because they have proved to be excellent at clearing weeds and scrubland. In the meantime, I will spend a little time over the next few days clearing some of the debris that is behind the piggeries. I haven't really done very much in that area since we moved in and there is plenty of rubbish that needs to be taken away from the back piggery before any chickens live there. 

I am looking forward to a weekend of pottering in the garden and with luck we will have another evening like today, when I can sit outside with a cuppa and watch the sun go down.
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Sunday, 23 October 2016

Plants, trees and leaves

 We are heading towards the end of our first year on the smallholding and we are taking stock of what we've achieved in the last twelve months and thinking about what we want to do over the next year.

This week I've been planting the plants, rooted cuttings, bulbs and trees that we've been given, bought or propagated so that none are sitting in pots outside the greenhouse unless that's where they will be for the next couple of years. I have a few tree seeds in pots that can stay by the greenhouse where it is light but sheltered until they are large enough to plant into their permanent positions. There are also several pots and bags of plants that I've put there with the intention of getting them into the ground, but as yet they haven't made it into the borders or field.

Several of the perennials that need to go into the perennial border have been put into a raised vegetable bed that otherwise would be empty of a crop over the winter. I've heeled in some perennials that I've divided and that I've been given and will scatter some buckwheat seeds in too, to be a green manure and ground cover over the winter. Then in early spring when I've weeded the perennial border, I will add the new plants in spaces between the existing clumps.

The perennial border has had little or no attention from me this year, other than to appreciate everything that has flowered in it, including the weeds! I've been delighted with the show of colour that we've had throughout most of the spring and summer, even the feverfew-daisy type weeds have added a welcome splash of white and yellow. The border has had different types of grains growing in it, these are from the wild bird feed that the previous owners put out for the local birdlife and as my focus has been on setting up the vegetable garden, I've left the grains to grow, enjoying the structural element that they have added to the border.

 As I started to clear some of the pernicious weeds from the border earlier this week, I noticed that the seed heads from those grains and also the herbs that I've planted look very much like a firework display hovering above the rest of the plant growth. The dill and fennel seeds with their umbilical like seed heads and the millet and oat plants offer different shapes and sounds as the wind moves through them. I take such pleasure in these simple moments of observation and appreciation and I'm glad that this pleasure hasn't lessened over the years.

I'm still gathering crops from around the smallholding to store for use over the autumn and winter. The apple trees that were here when we moved in have had varying degrees of sucess. One hasn't produced any fruit at all, but then I can't remember it having any blossom on it either. One has produced some fruit but the whole tree has black spot and the fruits do too. The third apple tree has produced some nice fruit which I have gathered and stored in the barn and the last tree's fruit is still not quite ready to pick. When I try to twist the apples from their branches, they do not come away easily which means that they are not ripe enough quite yet, but they look fabulous. The six new apple trees which we bought earlier in the week are unlikely to produce any fruit next year, but in a couple of years time we should, I hope, have an abundant harvest of apples.

The huge sycamore trees that grow to the side and back of the piggeries are starting to lose their leaves in the early autumn breezes. Yesterday I started to rake them into large piles with the intention of using them to create leaf mould or adding them to the food forest to improve the soil structure there. I filled a large green compost bin with them, pressing them down to fit in as many as I could. When that was filled I started to pile them up on the ground. After half an hour of raking and piling I had still only partially cleared an area about forty feet by six feet and there was an awful lot more to go! The trees look like they have hardly lost any leaves and yet the ground is starting to get covered with dried crunchy leaves. I can only imagine how deep the layer of leaves will be once the trees have shed all of them.

I think the best approach to the leaf collecting will be to take the wheelbarrow to the area and fill that a few times, taking the leaves to the food forest area and the rest can go into a compost bin or be piled up on the vegetable beds to rot down over the next few months. Last year, by the time we had moved in and I felt up to wandering around outside, the leaves were soggy and I didn't have the energy to rake up most of them. I cleared a small pathway to the chicken field, but left the rest to rot where they landed, this year I hope to gather the majority of them to help improve the condition of the soil in other productive areas of the garden.

My daughter and grandson number two came to visit on Thursday and we spent a delightful couple of hours chatting, laughing and putting the world to right. She is coming back again on Monday with both my grandsons and I'll be asking grandson number one to gather some leaves with me and then we can choose some with which to make an autumn collage.

Today there is a distinct chill in the air and although the autumn sun is trying to shine, I'm finding it hard to spend much time outside doing gentle chores before I need to come back in for a cuppa.

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