May Now

May is deceptive.  You think there is sunshine and warmth there, but look closer and all you see is grey and coldness. That’s the PM for you.

It’s no different in the garden, where temperatures remain cool and seedlings need to be tough to harden off before planting.  Even before getting to the veg patch they have to combat the “bloody difficult” slugs which continue to chomp on them, but enough are surviving the onslaught to make it to potting on.  Despite the snails rampaging through seedlings like the SNP through the Labour heartlands, I have managed to pot up plenty of Summer PSB, and enough Brussels to pay for ten thousand new policemen.  I think that figure is correct.  Give me a moment….

This weekend it did start to feel warmer and Mrs B helped me plant out the sweet peas in the goalposts.  Last year the first sweet pea blossomed on 27th May – a month and a half earlier than the usual Sweet Pea Day of 10th July.  I cannot see that we will have a sweet pea by that time this year, but perhaps one will bloom on 8th June.  We could do with something uplifting and beautiful to happen on that day.  I am not expecting any other wonderful surprises then.

 

 

 

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Being There

Ranunculus

Gardening while elections are being fought put me in mind of Peter Sellars’ last film – Being There.  The tale of a simple gardener whose naive statements about  horticulture are mistaken as pithy economic advice as he potters his way to become a trusted adviser to a political insider.

Perhaps we can take some advice from our politicians to help with our gardening.   Immigration, for example.  We saw a couple of rabbits by the hotchpotch bed the other day.  After the felling of the Blue Cedar the rabbits seemed to think we had an open border policy with a free movement of labour.  We sent our border control police out and they took one of the invaders down.  We are now rebuilding our wall (well…fence really) and we are going to MAKE THE RABBITS PAY FOR IT.  I don’t know how: perhaps they are Mexican rabbits – they’ll pay won’t they?

Elsewhere the immigrants are taking liberties with our seedlings as snails chomp their way through PSB, Brussels (no, not that one – the plant), Cavolo Nero and even Sunflower plants.  Typical foreigners:  they even eat weird food.  I mean: cosmos and sunflowers?  Getting rid of these invaders (when we can find them) is easy enough:  we just send them home – over the fence –  quicker than you can print a deliberately misleading poster of refugee snails and label it “Breaking Point”.  The real solution must be to put quotas on the slippery little characters.  Or maybe a points-based system on what they can bring to the garden…

Hardest of all is stopping the moles who continue to dig up the lawn.  These guys are the real Mugwumps of the garden.  What Massachusetts Native Americans would term a war leader.  They continue to lay their own IEDs on the lawn and tunnel under the tulips.  But I think they are less like mugwumps than the kind of Old Etonian who uses such terms in his newspaper column: with their dark-suited thick-set bodies, ponderous gait and blinkered, short-sighted outlook on life having them in charge of lawn care is about as right-minded as putting Boris “350 million for the NHS” Johnson in charge of foreign policy.

But maybe, just maybe, I need moles, slugs, snails and rabbits in my garden for the sheer diversity that they bring.  We have abundant bird life and amphibians feeding on so many of these critters and the dog stays fit and lean chasing after rabbits.  My recycled mole hills are excellent topsoil for the veg patch or even in potting compost.  So maybe without the uitlanders,  my garden ecology would fall apart, like an NHS without foreign doctors.

Perhaps I might take it easy on the immigrants.  Let’s not Keep low-paid jobs for British Workers but instead grow Broccoli for slugs and snails.  Maybe, to quote Chancy Gardner, I should remember that “Gardens need a lot of care. But if you love your garden, you don’t mind working in it, and waiting. Then in the proper season you will surely see it flourish.”

So true of life, gardening and health services.

 

 

 

 

 

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Birdsong

Spring feels like it’s sprung – and if it’s not obvious by the blooming amelanchier and the early spring flowers, then it will be from the sheer cacophony of birds shouting at one another about whatever it is that is on their minds at this time of year (no prizes for guessing what that might be). It is great to be out in the garden, planting seeds, and the accompaniment birds and their songs makes you feel good to be alive.

Mind you, we did have a couple of less welcome avian visitors. A few weeks ago I was shooting the breeze with Tony from down the road, when a local farm worker of Easter European extraction appeared, clutching a large fowl by the legs. The bird looked pretty chilled as its captor asked if anyone had lost a chicken. We said no, but suggested he try the cowboy over the road – which he duly did. No one was in, and he came back to explain that if he could not find the owner, he would have to slaughter it, in view of the then on-going bird flu scare.

It was only then I realised that this “chicken” had what looked like deely boppers on its head. “It’s a peacock” I said. So Tony and I sent the Pole and Peacock (sounds like a trendy new pub) back up the hill to where we know such fowl have previously resided, although the human residents have now moved. We didn’t want any of that foreign scum round our way, we thought. (Although we were quite happy to welcome Eastern European workers any day).

Three weeks later, and the peacock had returned – but this time he brought a friend (and I don’t mean the migrant worker). The pair hung around the hen run for a few days, though we haven’t seen them for a while and rumour has it that they provided some nourishment for local foxes.  It’s the circle of life, I guess.

Meanwhile the more traditional harbingers of spring are arriving with the first swallow spotted on 1st April, and the first “home” swallows swooping in and out of the cow stall on the 5th. I thought April Fools Day might be early for the Swallows, so I googled “first swallow” to find out. I re-phrased the question to get links that were related to ornithology, and found the RSPB sight which says swallows start arriving in April. So this one was indeed very prompt. Elsewhere there are Chiffchaffs doing their thing and sparrows tussling over females’ affections, while even the ducks over the road were at it yesterday. Made me want to re-read the book “Fup”….

It’s all kicking off.

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Same Old Same Old

It’s been a while since I posted, which suggests that I have not done a great deal in the garden – which is true, and fills me with mild panic that I might be lagging behind in preparation for the coming growing season.  So I took a quick look at what I did during February and March in the previous years and it was both reassuring and rather bitter-sweet.

In 2013 it was raining hard in February as I cleaned the greenhouse.  A year later it was raining even harder and the levels were under water. But the Old Man had a trailer of ten tons of manure delivered.  (That manure was finally finished last autumn when I gave up chiseling away at the last compacted layer of it).

In February 2015 I cleared the Silver Wedding and Boomerang beds and potted up plants that would eventually populate the new boomerang. I was still harvesting Red Kale and the new hens’ run was being built (with the help of Jim) by the cow stall.  And last year I was in Arran, enjoying the Scottish air, but feeling the first symptoms of heart disease. I put my little chitters out a couple of weeks after potato day and planted my tomatoes and chillis.

A year on and I approach spring with a shiny new stent in a coronary artery, a greenhouse that still looks like my artery did a year ago, but with a bunch of seedlings that are sprouting strongly.

Since my last post The Old Man has been in hospital recovering from his fall while I have been dealing with the usual at sporting issues at school.  But now it’s holiday time and an afternoon in the garden simply weeding, mulching and planting gladdens the heart – with or without a stent.

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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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