This is one of my favourite jobs - sitting down with my seed packets and notes as it gets dark in the afternoon to decide what to grow next year, perusing seed catalogues and dreaming of next year's sunny days.
So yesterday afternoon I plonked myself on the sofa with a cup of tea, laptop and reviewed this year's winners and losers. After that I placed my online order for seeds, onions, garlic and potatoes.
The winners - Pentland Javelin and Cosmos potatoes, which produced record crops and kept us in potatoes for 5 months. Also Alderman peas, Egyptian turnip rooted beetroot and Jetset onions.
The losers - the broad beans struggled with poor germination, so have changed to a hardier variety - Super aquadulce. Pumpkins, cucumber and courgettes also did poorly, but that was due to the weather.
After making my list, I set about planning the crop rotation for next year. Here is the plan of my vegetable plot. Not strictly accurate and to scale, but you get the idea.
Today I got out to do some digging in the bright sunshine, but the wind was strong and chilly so I didn't spend too long at it. The soil is a little drier than it was a few weeks ago, but still quite wet. I wanted to dig some over so the frost can get at it.
Also put out some new fat balls for the greedy birds - they get through almost one a day!
No pictures of digging as that's boring, instead here's the sprouts we are going to eat at Christmas. They're organic, as you can tell by all the slug and snail holes in the leaves!
Today was a sunny day, and got quite warm - about 9C in the sunshine, so I managed to get out to do some gardening. The sun goes down early now, and was already sinking behind the houses when I got out soon after 1pm.
Today's task was to deal with the raspberries. They've been moving out of their allotted space for a couple of years now, and are taking over a vegetable plot which I will need next year, so they had to move. It's also easy at this time of year to see the difference between the summer and autumn fruiting varieties, so I can get them in the right place.
Here is a "before" picture of the raspberries - note the anarchic ones which have moved out of the row - up to 2 metres.
And now they are all back in place again, I have regained 2 metres of growing space for my beans and peas next year. I have another batch of raspberries to move, elsewhere, and then I need to prune and manure all of them.
Finally, a picture of my shed to show how tidy it is!
At this time of year, there's not much to be done except tidy up. This applies especially to the shed:
As you can see, there is only enough floor space for a pair of wellies, and you could get seriously lost in there. I don't have many tools - a 40 year old spade, fork and trowel, so most of the space is taken up with canes, plastic cloches and netting. What a mess!
So I decided the shed had to be tidied - nets and cloches folded up and stored neatly, canes against the back wall and a good sweep out of the mud and rubbish. I even managed to fit back in the plastic chairs we sit on in summer.
Tidy sheds are great - somewhere to get out of the rain and make a cup of tea on the camping stove in the bad weather to come.
I was going to post a picture of the tidied shed, but the batteries in my camera died. You'll just have to believe me when I say it is now pristine.
Elderberries and Hawthorn berries in the sunshine.
I managed to get into the vegetable garden this afternoon and work without treading too much on the wet soil. I like to get the ground cleared before Christmas, so it's full speed ahead now. I took up some old bush tomatoes which didn't do very much and got blight, so won't be making an appearance next year. Dug up the buttercups and grass from around them and tidied up the edges - that's about 10sq m done, only another 200 to go...
Managed to pick some raspberries and a cabbage which I have already eaten.
Tomorrow's weather is forecast to be dire, but I hope to get out again on Sunday.
We are now definitely in autumn, with some leaves falling and some turning the most beautiful shades of red and gold. There is nothing nicer than red leaves in the sunshine, but lately we have settled into a pattern of fine mornings followed by rainy afternoons, so I have not been able to get out as much as I like.
The ground is very wet, so digging is not possible. Instead, it has been a good time for pulling out weeds and tidying paths. In some cases this means rediscovering paving stones lying under a covering of grass due to the wet summer.
This activity is really not photogenic, so instead here is a picture of some autumn raspberries, which have been magnificent this year.
With all the schools and students back hard at their studies, I'm being rushed off my feet with work. I've had little time to get out in the garden this last week, so all I have been able to do is pick fruit (raspberries) and vegetables (courgettes, runner beans, cabbage).
Yesterday I managed to get a couple of hours in my Mum's garden, which needed serious attention. It's small but shady and with the two wet summers we have had, has been overrun with creeping nettle, buttercups and ferns. I waded in yesterday afternoon, and the photo shows progress so far - most of the space you see was taken up with a very large bracken plant which took me a full 30 minutes to dig out, involving rock moving, levering and a great deal of effort.
We have extra stones dug up from a neighbour's garden and the plan is to build up the beds to make them deeper, add compost/soil and some new plants. The established plants should benefit from the extra room and sustenance. At the top is a lovely bleeding heart plant, which has not done well recently as it has been swamped, so we hope it will do better. I will post some photos next year!
I hope to be able to make some more progress this week.
For the first time in recent memory, we have had two consecutive days without rain! Hurray!
So I got the "summer" pruning done on my fruit trees, except the gooseberries, which I will have to do when I have cut the grass. My method is simple - cut the new growth of laterals (the side shoots on the branches) of apples to 3 leaves in length, the plum laterals to 6 leaves, the plum leaders (the main bit of the branch) to 8 leaves, and the redcurrant laterals to 5 leaves. Works a treat. So I now have tidier trees which I hope will produce more fruit next year.
Then I got on with one of my favourite jobs - there is nothing nicer on a sunny September afternoon than sitting in the sunshine, rubbing mud and outer skins off onions and garlic, before bringing them in the house for winter use. The smell of dry onions is one of my favourites - maybe I'm weird, but that's the way it is...
Once again, the extreme wetness has prevented serious work in the garden. The good news is the weather is forecast to dry up this week, so maybe - just maybe - I will be able to get the summer pruning done on the fruit trees (it should have been done in July!).
All there is to do at present is harvest vegetables - the flowers have suffered so there aren't many I can cut and bring into the house.
Here is a picture of my recent crop - some monster runner beans, a giant courgette - it loves the rain! - and the Worcester Pearmain apples from my 4 year old dwarf tree which is now cropping well.
You'd think it couldn't rain anymore, but it just goes on and on. Today we had more monsoon weather, yesterday we even had hail! Still haven't done the summer pruning of the fruit trees, now over a month late.
So no gardening done since the weekend, everytime I plan to get out there the weather turns nasty. Instead here is a photo of my favourite nasturtium - Tom Thumb. It's a dwarf type, which is great for pots and small gardens. I plant it under the rambling rose (New Dawn, see previous post) outside my front door as it flowers after the rose has finished, and also scrambles up the rose. Very pretty.
It's a long time since my last post and I could say I haven't done much gardening because of the weather, but in truth I have spent a lot of time glued to the TV, watching the olympics. Between that and the necessity of working to earn a living, there hasn't been much time for the garden.
Well, it's the last day of August now and the "summer", such as it was, is feeling over now. While it wasn't as bad as last year, we have had a lot of rain and the consequences have been the loss of lettuces, herbs, parsnips, flowers and even some leeks to slugs. But the frogs and toads have had a great year - I've seen a couple of adult toads and one juvenile, plus yesterday I saw lots of baby froglets hopping around on my vegetable plot - I hope they will grow up to eat lots of pesky critters for me. Let's hope September is drier and sunnier - the flowers, tomatoes and pumpkins certainly need it.
Still, I have managed to harvest some herbs - I'm completely self-sufficient in mint, sage, and rosemary. No thyme this year as one bush died and the other needed serious pruning. Here is a picture of bunches of sage and mint drying on my curtain rail. These will last me to next summer.
Last week I planted out all the leeks, there were more than 100 so it took a couple of hours. I have lost a few small ones to the slugs since then, but with all the rain the bulk of them are doing well. I'm determined to get ahead for next year's season, so now I'm concentrating on weeding and tidying - got the strawberry bed straight and rediscovered paving under the grass. I'm hoping to get the summer pruning done if we get a few dry days in a row ... if! Then it's on to the flower beds and round the house.
Since my last post I have hardly got outside the door, due to the frequent and heavy rain here. I have managed to pick some peas and beans, and harvested the first beetroots - I took a few out to leave more room for others. Some weeding was accomplished, but it was disappointing to find some of the parsnips had died, presumably due to the excessive wet.
The strawberries have now finished, with over 13 pounds of fruit, which is a record. I moved the plants last year, added a few new ones this spring and it seems to have paid off. The cabbages, sprouts and broccoli are all growing well, and the first runner beans have set, so things are going well in the vegetable garden.
I have a backlog of pruning, weeding and tidying jobs to do, hopefully the rain will diminish this weekend and the weather will improve.
At this time of the year the vegetable harvest is in full swing, so other work tends to take a back seat. There's only one job physically harder than planting potatoes, and that's digging them up again. As I type, the dull ache of well-used back muscles reminds me of this fact.
The second early potatoes produced a good crop, though with some slug and wireworm damage. It looks like some slugs laid their eggs in the top row of potatoes, so there were lots of little holes in some potatoes. Recent rainy weather washing away slug pellets (environmentally friendly ones) also resulted in the loss of a few small lettuces and flowers. Still, the courgettes and pumpkins are coming on well. All the tomatoes have been flowering this week, so that's good news.
While the first crop of broad beans is now done, the peas are in full swing and will be for another week or so. Lots of weeding to do now, including reclaiming some "lost" ground where a full digging out is required. The only big job left is to plant the leeks in the ground formerly occupied by potatoes - I think I'll leave that a week, or my back really will be protesting!
The rain finally stopped, the sun came peeking through the clouds and I decided it was time to pick the gooseberries. Armed with a long sleeve shirt and sweatshirt to protect myself against the thorns, I approached the bush with due caution and began to pick.
I should have worn a hat. My hair got caught in the bush - my curly hair. For those who don't have curly hair, let me spell it out for you: curly hair + thorny bush = human/plant velcro. I was stuck, head fixed inside the bush, rear end sticking out. After about 30 seconds of wriggling I escaped, with only a minor scalp laceration to show for it. Oh, and I left some hair in the bush. It can keep it.
So I now have several pounds of gooseberries, scratched head, hands and arms and a little less hair than when I started the day.
I turned next to the whitecurrants - a less aggressive bush, from which I got three pounds of fruit. They are probably the most pretty fruit, with transluscent skin through which you can see the brown seeds. I have struggled to get this bush to fruit well, but it looks like I've got the pruning right at last, because three pounds is a good crop (for me).
Finally, I dug up the remainder of the first early potatoes - Pentland Javelin and got half a sack full. These are slug resistant, which is essential in the wet and windy north of England and they have done well this year.
"New Dawn" rose - a very pretty rambler. Perfect for a wet English summer!
It hasn't stopped raining in three days, but the plants keep growing. Finally, I could put off picking the strawberries no longer, so ventured out in a waterproof jacket.
I picked fruit in the rain, must be bonkers.
Another pound of strawberries to add to my haul - ten pounds so far this year!
I also managed to pick some peas, was going to dig up some more potatoes but it was too wet so I will leave that until tomorrow when the weather should - SHOULD - be better. That's according to the weather forecast, but they've got it wrong several times this week, so who knows?
Here's a picture of peas in the rain - for anyone interested, this is an old, tall (1 metre plus) variety called Alderman. I gave up on the modern, short varieties a couple of years ago as they only produce one crop (they are designed for farmers really) and the slugs eat most of those, since they are so close to the ground. These pea pods are huge, so well worth growing.
So, another pound and a half of strawberries picked yesterday afternoon. They'll be cooked and in the freezer by the end of the day.
I didn't do any gardening today, instead went for a six mile walk in a nearby deserted valley - mostly grass, a few trees and bog plants so nothing pretty to see. If you want to see fantastic wild flowers in great scenery, I recommend the Pembrokeshire coastal path (South Wales) in May/ June:
My photos really don't do it justice. Seeing Thrift, Ox-Eye Daisy, Squill and Sea Campion in their natural habitat is stunning.
This looks like someone has alternated Thrift and Sea Campion along the path, but it's entirely natural. Inspiring stuff.
So, off to eat some home-grown produce now - potatoes and broad beans followed by raspberries, will give the strawberries a miss for one day!
So, over half way through the year and the vegetable garden is in full swing. We're into glut time and I'm really starting to hate strawberries - eight pounds (four kilos) so far and I am just about to pick some more. Strawberries and cream, stewed strawberries, strawberry crumble and today rhubarb and strawberry streusel (like a crumble but with some ground almonds instead of half the flour - delicious). I moved the strawberries last year and with that and the awful summer, they produced almost nothing. They're making up for it this year, with a vengeance.
As for the redcurrants, a bumper crop - almost 18 pounds (9 kil0s), nearly killed me picking them. Happily they freeze well, so some are in the freezer and the rest went into jam, 16 jars of it in fact. Gifts for family and friends...
I'm now getting up the courage to pick the gooseberries, a nice fruit from the most vicious bush in the world. I'll let you know how I get on!