A record of our adventures between Pipit and her successor...
Busy Bees (that refers to us and the bumblebees!)
The weeks and months have flown by and it's hard to believe that it has been six months since our last update.
We continue our routine, working from home as normal and despite various pressures, deadlines and projects to juggle, we consider ourselves incredibly lucky that we have been able to continue both our 'normal' work and jobs in and around the garden and house.
Weekends have been spent developing the garden and balancing the hard physical work that involves with enjoying the harvests from the veg beds, cooking nice meals in the evening or barbecuing when the weather allowed. On the latter, we've done a final clean of the barbecue ready to pack it away for the winter after a total of 53 (we keep count so we can judge when the gas bottle may run out) delicious meals cooked on it from April right through to the very warm September.
A quick roundup of the work done in the garden, amongst other things:
Terram being laid atop hardcore & sand
One of two loads of Dorset flint for the path
Every load hauled from the drive - 30 metres up the 30° path
Finished, well, the path as far as the greenhouse anyway
Smiling now, but don't look behind you!
Two sets of new rubber handles, £8, good as new. I've known 'Ken & Barbara' for over 40 years.
Guess who's short enough to work under the Gin Deck?
Yet more gravel, this time for around the veg beds
Gravelled paths around the veg beds
Before photo - there's now lawn in place of the bonfire
And a reminder of what it looked like before we started (although actually after we had already begun shaping the path and clearing some of the weeds)
A gravelled path and a stripey lawn! Turf from Bosbigal Landscape Supplies, stripes for free!
A trimmed video showing the garden before we started any work:
We've had lots of nice colour in the garden from various annuals we planted in the bank by the pond as well as from the rhododendron that was already here and the bee-friendly shrubs we planted along the edge of the top terrace are doing well.
Throughout the summer, the pond was looking more established by the week and the initial four pond skaters have bred quite successfully (or they've invited all their mates 'round for a pool party) because there were dozens of them of all sizes, so obviously several offspring of the originals. The rhododendron that was in the garden when we bought the plot and at the edge of where we created the pond flowered beautifully this year. We've seen dragonflies a number of times around the pond, including one dipping its tail into the water, presumably laying eggs. Still no sightings of frogs or newts in the pond yet, although Andy did nearly soil himself when a frog unexpectedly leapt out from behind the potting shed, so we do know at least one is in the garden.
Male Broad-Bodied Chaser
Pond skater family outing
Female Southern Hawker
Male Vagrant Darter
The asters, having suffered and never really prospered in pots for five years, have grown and flowered incredibly well on the bank by the pond. The bees and other pollinators loved them but they are too tall for that position by the pond so will be moved and divided for next year.
Asters too big for their boots, or rather too tall for the bank by the pond
Don't think we'll be pressing our own oil anytime soon, but there are olives on our olive trees!
We've now planted a number of spring & summer bulbs, some in a trough at the end of the decking, others along the bank by the pond and elsewhere in the garden. The border beyond the main lawn area is still to be cut and planted, but that's a job that we may start over the winter or next spring.
Despite the extensive work creating our garden, there are still a number of 'wild' areas, some of which we'll eventually tame but we will still leave some untamed for the various creatures that visit. The hedge will be one obvious perpetual wilderness and it's been lovely to see the various wildflowers, from primroses to foxgloves, red campion and cornflowers. There seem to have been far more moths around this year and the butterflies seem to have emerged later than normal.
Five-spot burnet on a cornflower in the hedgerow
We've not yet seen our hedgehogs but, going back to photos from last year, it was only in October when they began to appear, so we'll put some food and water out in the evenings in the hope they return. Their hedgehog house awaits occupation, straw filled and hopefully a nice daytime hideaway and winter hibernation spot.
We set up a wildlife trail camera to see if we managed to get any frogs taking up residence in the pond but most of the footage caught was only of the plants around the pond moving in the wind. We did, though, capture a visiting fox. It wasn't until we watched the video a few times that we realised why the fox turned and retreated - a pair of glowing eyes appear suddenly at the edge of the hedge! Possibly another fox but more likely a cat.
We continue to get a great variety of birds on the feeders including great spotted woodpeckers (two at once at one point) including a juvenile and the most recent regular is a nuthatch, although I did briefly see two of those at once too. We positioned the bird feeders so that we can see them from our 'perches' at the kitchen island and it's sometimes difficult not to want to sit there all day watching the activity. I keep trying to get good photos to show the number and variety of birds on the feeders but what many of them have shown is just how badly the feeder needed to be resprayed, which we finally managed to do a month or so ago.
One of our favourite visitors, a nuthatch
There's often a raiding squirrel on the feeders whose acrobatics are often quite funny. We did mention in an earlier post that we'd planned to replace the broken squirrel guard, however that would now be redundant as he has perfected leaping from the terrace straight onto the top of the feeder.
One day, when walking up the rough part of the path up to the garden, Andy spotted a tiny mouse (possibly a young field mouse or harvest mouse). It froze and seemed to play dead (Andy thought it was initially) so I put down some peanuts and sunflower seeds which it began munching. A few minutes later, sneaking up the path, I found it had been joined by a second.
Cooking indoors or out on the barbecue has been, as ever, a form of enjoyment for both of us, made even better with all our home-grown produce.
Rainbow chard and carrots
Kohlrabi, lettuce and rainbow beets
Our first two buffalo steak tomatoes
Panéed chilli halloumi with lettuce & rainbow beets
Barbecued lamb chops (marinated, Greek style, in olive oil, lemon, garlic & oregano), new potatoes, barbecued courgettes with rose harissa, salad & tzatziki
Lamb kofte and giant spring onions
Barbeuced courgette slices
Barbecued lamb kofte, new potatoes, green salad, tomatoes with mint & basil and barbecued spring onions
Refreshing cucumber soup
We always knew this first year of the veg beds would be a learning curve but assumed we'd have more failures that we have had. The first lesson is a better understanding of what 'sow thinly' on a packet of seeds means as some of the crops, the lettuce in particular, were so successful we couldn't eat enough of it before it bolted and began to go to seed. That did, though, prompt the purchase of a salad spinner. Not an ordinary turn the handle job though but a fancy pump mechanism one!
We had more courgettes than we could eat fresh, so made soups, sliced and shredded more packed them all into the freezer. Marrows don't freeze well, so those we harvested we either roasted or stuffed, Italian style (sausage mince with fennel seeds, oregano & chilli flakes in a tomato-based sauce). We had plenty of rainbow chard, purple mangetout (some of both blanched and frozen) and kohlrabi too. Our broad bean crop was pitiful, our own fault as we'd been so busy with other work that the blackfly got hold before we managed to eradicate them. The nasturtiums we'd planted alongside, intended to detract the blackfly away from the broad beans, didn't flower in time (i.e. we didn't plant them early enough), so another lesson for next year. The runner beans, three attempts of planting, proved too tempting for raiding bunnies, despite a supposed fear of crawling beneath the chicken wire surrounding them. Said rabbits also climbed on top of the chicken wire over the carrots, but ate only the carrot tops, so our carrot harvest was reasonable. We did very well with potatoes, the 'Rocket' variety of new potatoes keeping us supplied until the King Edwards were ready, and it was only in the last few weeks they ran out.
The brassicas, similar to the broad beans, suffered from our neglect whilst we were busy with other jobs, in this case from cabbage white butterflies whose caterpillars feasted on the leaves. We did rescue two spring cabbages and three winter Savoys, some of which we blanched and froze. The Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli seemed to be particularly favoured by the cabbage whites although there are still sprouts on the stems, two cauliflowers and the broccoli are still growing so we may yet have some winter veg, but certainly not a bumper harvest.
So, two of the larger projects for next year on the veg beds will be to fence the entire area, with access gates - slight hitch (for hitch read extra work) with that is that we really need three gates; one to get to the compost heaps, one in the middle from the gravelled path and one at the greenhouse end. We also need to work out the best way to suspend netting to stop the cabbage whites from laying their eggs on the brassicas. Bamboo stakes topped with small pots with the netting draped over seems the simplest.
The greenhouse was also slightly overplanted, resulting from our seed growing being more successful than we thought it might be. Consequently the plants got less light so we didn't get as bountiful a harvest as we may have done, but we did at least have some lovely tomatoes, cucumbers (which came rather all too many at once) and aubergines. Some of the chillies didn't do so well after potting on, but others are now ripening with the Serranos seeming to be the last to do so and still haven't gone from green to red.
Some of the courgettes and marrows that rotted on the vine after wet spells, lettuce that went to seed before we could eat them and everything cleared after the harvests finished have all gone onto the compost heap so at least we shouldn't have to buy bags of it next year for pots and borders. We will need some manure though, to dig into the veg beds once each is cleared, ready for next season's planting. We know there are things we could be planting now to harvest through the winter and into spring, but we do try to be realistic about the amount of time we have available. We do still have squashes beginning to ripen, a few more parsnips to harvest, some rainbow chard, the Jerusalem artichokes and, with any luck, some Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower.
A sycamore on our neighbour's land has been removed which has opened up our view even more. We also had some branches of the trees that were too close to the north end of our house trimmed. Tom Pugh Mobile Timber Services did a top job. The shredder (diesel powered we think) they used was a monster, munching through everything including fairly substantial logs.
As the autumn evenings draw in, the temperatures drop and there are more grey and wet days, the temptation to light the log burner, even though it's not yet been at all cold inside the house, is irresistible...
This does give us the opportunity, over a glass or two of red, to think about and plan all the jobs we have to do next year. We have now moved from a short list of big jobs to a big list of shorter jobs. There are also a few inside jobs to do that we had postponed while the weather had allowed us to work outside. So, if you can bear it, there will be more from us in these pages anon.