Chop chop – falling down

Better viewing for the cattle

Better viewing for the cattle

Potato Day was not the only excitement last weekend as Jim’s man spent the whole of Saturday taking down the Hawthorn hedge at the end of the tennis court.  It is part of the The Old Man’s attempt to re-take the tennis court surrounds, which used to be grassy verges and the occasional Cotoneaster or apple tree.  Dean ‘literally’ (as the kids would say) worked from dawn to dusk, sawing and burning his was through decades of prickles.  A sort of ‘Chain Saw Ridge’, but with no blood and guts, and refreshments provided by Mrs B.  Charbonnel hot chocolate and – later – English Breakfast tea and biscotti.  Are we Middle class?

An hour and a half later..

An hour and a half later..

Elsewhere more timber fell as I started to trim the infamous Cotoneaster out the front of the house.  Mrs B told me to spend twenty minutes on it then come in for tea.  She is always looking out for my physical welfare.  But once you start, it is just so difficult to stop, and in the absence of any off-spring to offer assistance or even do it themselves, I cut it down to size in a little under 90 minutes.  I was aching the next day, from all the clambering around in the tree, but it had been a good job jobbed.

This weekend has been wet and dismal on so many fronts, and the only thing being chopped down was The OM who took a midnight fall on the flagstone floor of the kitchen and is currently residing in hospital looking bruised and bloodied.  He has the sort of injuries Mrs B was concerned I might sustain on the Cotoneaster, but hopefully he will be fine and I suspect it will not stop him directing operations for the final assault on the long side of the tennis court.  Brother H has gone in to see him today.

I will go tomorrow to receive my orders if he has not been discharged by then.

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Hawthorn cleared

 

 

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Potato Day 2017

Your Potato Day Experience Starts Here

Your Potato Day Experience Starts Here

Today was Potato Day in Castle Cary and once again Mrs B and I pottered along to Caryford Hall to grab our annual selection of little chitters.  It used to be in the Consti Club where we would enjoy the raffish charm of the old place but  Caryford Hall seems too clean and well-ordered to be hosting a bunch of mostly middle-aged and elderly gardeners rummaging through multi-coloured tubs of spuds.

Mrs B mentioned our plans to The Old Man this morning which set him off on an initial criticism of the event as somewhere that people went to buy some fancy-dan hoity-toity potatoes that would ultimately fail, and inferred that we would be doing the same. Mrs B (who handles situations with TOM with the cool detachment of a seasoned daughter-in-law) put him right on that score, informing him that we knew exactly what we were going to purchase, based on previous experience and detailed plans for the season ahead. He seemed  impressed with the answer and in an effort to offer advice, resorted to the tried and tested “Pink Fir Apples are delicious and I always found you can’t go far wrong with Wilja for an all round potato”.

It is for that very reason we have never planted Wilja since we took over the garden.

This year we planned a repeat performance of the plantings of recent years, with Cherie (1st Early), Belle De Fontenay (2nd Early), King Edwards (a high risk / high reward kind of spud), Sarpo Axona (Blight-resistant main crop) and Arran Victory (1st early:  our one vanity potato – historically and geographically significant to us). The plan back-fired slightly with no Cherie on offer, so we threw in another wild card chitter by taking some Swift instead. So maybe The OM was correct after all as we were suckered into buying random spuds on impulse.

Your Potato Journey Starts here

Stand in line – no queue jumping

Pennard Plants run a smooth Potato Event,  but swift is not the word to describe the method of selecting your chitters.  They were alphabetically arranged in plastic trugs with colour-coded labels for earlies or mains.  Everyone dutifully shuffled clockwise round the tables picking their spuds as they passed them.  Skipping ahead to go from C for Cherie to K for King Edwards was not recommended and it is amazing how tightly packed a line of septuagenarian gardeners can be.  If Stoke City had had a few of these yesterday to form a defensive wall, Wayne Rooney would still be waiting to break Bobby Charlton’s record.

Waiting to pick out a few scoops of shallots and onions, the gardeners in front of me took an age to make their own choices.  They approached the trugs in the same manner a major predator stalks it prey:  eyes fixed on the sets (in case they attempted a sudden escape?), moving with feline precision, but at a snail’s pace.  I was willing them to make their choice between Longor or Vigamor, to pounce, take a scoop and move on but I lost my nerve and upset the hunt by elbowing my way in to grab my prey and take my shallots triumphantly back to Mrs B.  Oh, the joy of sets.

Returning home with our booty, I was interrogated once more by TOM who asked what I had bought.  I started to list them but he interrupted to suggest that he assumed we had bought some Pink Fir Apple too?  “No” I said.  I felt mean to be denying garden space to one of The Old Man’s favourite spuds – but frankly they are a pain to clean and peel.

Or did I still feel some sort of residual duty to do as my father advises?

“No” is the resounding answer to that one.

 

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The Importance of Brussels in our Lives

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Green Marble F1

Christmas:  a time to celebrate but also to reflect.  And this year I was in more reflective mood than usual as I sat down to the festive fayre with the usual offerings from the garden to complement the turkey.

In terms of winter veg, I’ve had the finest crops of Brussels Sprouts and Parsnips ever.  I love Brussels and at Christmas in particular they take on an iconic status as a mainstay of the Christmas meal.  The OM would always ensure that there were enough home-grown brussels each year to feed the family – which was an increasingly tall order with four teenagers to satisfy.  I don’t remember doubting my parents’ abilities to provide for us from the garden.  I never had any great love for working the soil, let alone actually picking the veg.  It seemed an impossible task to pick Brussels without getting soaked to the skin. It might have been dry for weeks (in Somerset? in the winter?) and still the plants somehow held unreasonably large amounts of water in their crinkled leaves, ready to be released on you as soon as  you took the first sprout from the stem.  And there was apparently an art to digging parsnips that required a long demonstrative lesson from The OM.  He took personal pride in getting as much of the long tap-root out of the ground as he could, which required digging around the plant as if excavating a land mine.  And we were expected to follow suit.

So my own current efforts in harvesting these two stalwarts of the Christmas table are influenced by the memory of these childhood experiences.  But while I can happily pick Brussels in any weather (no such thing as the wrong Brussels – just the wrong clothing) I still feel a tinge of guilt when I hear the clunk of the tap-root snapping as I pull the parsnip from the ground.

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Brest F1

But I have still been receiving plaudits from The OM for the standard of the produce and I, in my turn, have been boring my own family with constant references to the quality of the vegetables on their festive plates.  I wish I could say it was down to anything I had consciously done this year to make the Brussels produce solid spheres of crisp goodness and the parsnips to germinate and grow with such fecundity.   I guess I did choose two completely different types of sprout this year, for no reason other than the fact that previous crops had been so rubbish, but I practically threw the parsnip seed into the soil and hoped for the best.  I must have missed the birds, the stony ground and the thorns because my parsnips have sprung up and increased, as some one far more worthy than me once noted.  But this is no parable – these are real veg and they taste divine.

With the super sprouts and ‘snips I feel a certain closing of a circle.  It was the destruction of heavenly sprouts from a plague of heifers which first drew me into taking on the Old Man’s garden, and The OM is of the opinion that his failing health will mean he will not see another Christmas.   That remains to be seen, but if it proves to be so, I am chuffed that I have lucked out this year and produced something from the garden of which TOM would be proud.  I can’t give myself a higher accolade than that.

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75 Sprouts and 4 parsnips. Would that have fed the 5,000?

 

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A Walk with A View #4

Storm Angus has just ripped through the West Country and dumped a large quantity of rain as well as ripping most of the remaining leaves from the trees. Up till this weekend it has been – by common consent – one of the most beautiful autumns for many years with still days and blue skies highlighting the glorious leaves.

There has even been just a hint of frost to give us justification to pick the brussels – which have been the best that I can remember growing myself, and therefore the best since the night of the cows which prompted this whole adventure in gardening to start.

Herewith a few pics from a morning walk a couple of weeks ago, when the sun was shining, the leaves were on the trees and life was apparently in harmony.

 

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Eat, Sleep, Retrieve, Repeat

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Gathering the leaves – and possibly the walnuts

Ella is a retriever / lab cross.  There’s probably a posh name for this – like a labtrine or something.  I guess someone somewhere has already thought of crossing the shitsu with a poodle (how much for a shitapoo?) but the key feature of our dog’s genetic inheritance is an overweening desire to bring back anything that is dead.  Like rigor mortis rabbits (with which she nearly took Mrs B off at the knees the other day) or pigeons that have been half eaten by sparrowhawks. But she will also attempt to retrieve stuff which has not actually been shot or died of starvation.

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One pheasant – dead or only resting?

Autumn around these parts brings out the birds and beasts that are trying desperately to fatten up for the winter months.  The pheasant is one such bird trying to fatten up for winter though it has not idea that all it has been successively bred for is to be shot by posh boys in tweed before being collected by their soft-mouthed coated canine companions.  It might explain why they have the aerial ability an early Wright Brothers prototype, making them tempting bait for anything that will chase – thus cutting out the gun-toting middle man.  The other morning our over-keen gun dog disappeared down the lane after a pheasant.  It seems the bird’s idea to try to out-run the labrador failed as two minutes later – much to Mrs B’s dismay – the dog returned with bird in mouth (is that worth two in the bush?) and placed it Mrs B’s feet.

However, as Mrs B tried to move the corpse out of the road, the pheasant jumped up and ran into the ditch.  Miracle?  Maybe.  The chances are that the Lazarus-like recovery of the bird was just the “headless chicken” response of a bird that was pretty much dead.  But Mrs B retains the notion that the pheasant is still out there wandering the hedges and ditches.  Aaaah.

Elsewhere Ella has less success chasing the squirrels that pilfer the walnuts.  Looking from the Labrador’s eye view, how hard can it be?  Squirrels are small, slow-moving, can’t fly, and appear to be such easy targets to chase down and destroy.  And yet…..   Ella spends many a long hour gazing into the branches working out how she can climb the tree to snag the rat.  Fudge did climb the tree once – having chased a squirrel at such pace towards the walnut she actually ran up the trunk almost to the bottom branches ten feet up before, like Wile E Coyote, she noticed gravity was about to take effect.  It was long way down.

The constant chasing is symptomatic of the turf war between dogs and squirrels over who owns the walnuts.  Ella retrieves them (naturally) and it is a subtle observation game to tell when the lab has a nut in her mouth.  But Fudge has taught her how to crack them open and eat them.  So seeing the squirrels tucking into them will only annoy the territorially jealous dogs.

Elsewhere Ella employs her jumping skills indoors as aprt of the self-appointed dance police.  She won’t allow any dancing at any time and attacks any offenders.  On he whole she is a very quiet dog and the only time she barks is in her sleep.  A Fat Boy Slim gig (which we went to at Pilton Party in September) would be her worst nightmare, but I suspect what really makes her howl in her sleep are those pesky squirrel varmint.

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Light Bulb Moments

161031-2We didn’t manage to get away for half term this year as my school once again made me an offer I could not refuse and I instead found myself organising and leading a half term hockey camp for a visiting prep school.  But rather than dwell on the places I could have gone, I was able to appreciate how lucky we are to live where we do.  And at this time of year, with this sort of weather, Somerset is not a bad place to be.

Some see autumn as a  depressing season, but I have always enjoyed it.  When I was younger this was probably because I could look forward to my birthday but, with advancing years, somehow a birthday is not the harbinger of good tidings like it used to be.  Instead I enjoy autumn for the glorious colours of the trees, for the incoming migratory birds and for days like today, which presented the opportunity to be out on such a gloriously sunny November morning.

After taking the dogs for a walk the main order of the day was more planting.  This year we are going large (super size perhaps) on bulbs.  Over the last couple of days I have planted 200 tulips as well as an indeterminate number of ranunculus.   I planted a load of the latter in tubs last winter and although I did get a good number of blooms I think I could have done better by giving them more space – as well as feeding them more often.  So this year I am hedging my bets: some in pots, some in the greenhouse and some in the cutting patch.

The tulips have gone in what was the lily pond – now renamed the tulip bed and reshaped to fit the theme.  But again I am not putting all my eggs in one basket or bulbs in one bed, and have planted some in the cutting patch too. All of this would have been a lot harder if Mrs B had not invested in a bulb planter – a tool I had not come across before, but which I will never be without from now on.  In making a hole for the bulb, the planter takes what looks like a core sample of soil which ultimately is deposited on the ground.  After while your bed is covered in bore holes and the detritus from a pig’s latrine.  But it works for me as I happily plop a bulb in each hole and then cover it up (did that sound right?!)

If all goes well we will have a good number of blooms to sell come May next year.

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End of Term report

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Sunflower in the cutting patch

It’s that time of the year again when the evening chill sharpens, the leaves start to turn and we spend a fruitless Sunday morning trying to purchase Glastonbury tickets.  And it has been months since I delivered any sort of news on this blog.

Some acquaintances cannot understand the reasons for writing the rubbish I do on this page, but I find a certain sense of unburdening happening when I write.  Essentially this is no more than an open diary – in which I record what I am doing in the garden, as well as describing the antics of dogs and other companions as they illuminate my life.  If people want to read it, so be it, but having a readership of sorts does give me another reason to do it.  So as each year wheels around into another I am able to look back and build on my experiences to ensure that the next garden season will be better than the last.

So what has gone well this summer and what lessons have I learnt in the last couple of months?

My peas and beans were excellent, albeit briefly.  Next year I am promising myself I will really get the hang of succession planting.  A fortnight’s glut is not the sensible way to harvest these things.

The winter leeks were left too long and ultimately ended up like a small petrified forest with the texture of fossilised wood.  But the pigs seemed to appreciate them as they munched their way through the lot.

Elsewhere the purple sprouting, cabbages and brussels look absolutely fabulous, which is because of this year’s other wonder crop.  I had read about nasturtiums as a “sacrificial” plant to keep the cabbage white butterflies off the Brassicas and I could not believe the effect that they had.  While the nasturtiums were being lacerated, the cabbages, PSB and brussels went unscathed.  If I had been trying to cultivate a good crop of nasturtiums I might have been peeved at the shredding of the leaves, but there were still enough flowers to adorn the regular green salads – which were another success this year (an area in which I did manage to achieve some sort of succession, with salad still flourishing in greenhouse and garden).

Experience has helped me grow a good batch of onions – where the return of the Red Barron brought a good crop, that is storing well too.  The same goes for garlic – with enough to see us through the next year – and shallots, which I have not only harvested, but have also learnt to use in cookery to good effect, and not be too precious with them.

The decision to plant early or late came under scrutiny once again this year. The OM would warn against being too preciptate with my planting (“Too early for runner beans”) and – weirdly – this year there seemed some truth in his seemingly inflexible ways with regard to the tomatoes.  The early Shirley plants suffered from the extremities of cold nights and warm days and never recovered while the later Sweet Millions were excellent and we will still have a few more to harvest this week before they finally succumb to the colder nights and shorter days.  (Mrs B’s pressure to plant early tomatoes to keep up with our horticultural neghbours should, perhaps, be resisted).  The beans all did well but are another which could do with a second crop of late planters

The cutting patch for flowers proved to be abundant this year and next season, with a decent marketing strategy, we might actually sell jam jar posies and other bunches of proper British Flowers.

More recently I harvested the squashes which were a mixued bunch – but again, probably enough to see us through the winter with plenty of heart soups!  But teh stand out crop of the moment are the chillis which are still growing adn ripening in the greenhouse in abundance.

So next season will be so much better, but like a really good round of golf  it is never perfect. We will continue to practice and strive for perfection.

 

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