Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from a snowy Lancashire. Enjoy the holiday!

Friday, 18 December 2009

First Snow

I've had a few days away, walking and birdwatching on the Dee estuary. The photo above is of a female kestrel which we came across hunting on what used to be the foreshore. Throughout the 19th century and for the first couple of decades of the 20th, the place in the photo was beach, and old pictures show kids building sandcastles here. But now instead of sand there is a very extensive and mature saltmarsh, full of life. Amazing how quickly plants move in and change a landscape.
When we got back, we found a few centimetres of snow had fallen. Not being southern softies, this did not cause the "chaos" it did in the south east, and after doing the shopping we went out for a walk in the late afternoon sunshine. This is the old railway line, now a bridleway and footpath.
And here is the scene beside the river (our shadows are bottom left!). A nice afternoon.

Not sure when I will get back to the garden, the soil will be frozen for a while now so instead I will finish the seed order and planning for next year.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Back to Work

The constant rain of November and early December has finally abated and so it's back to work time. The ground is still wet, but not saturated as it was and it will continue to dry out as the forecast is good for the next couple of weeks. So today I started on the winter pruning - taking out the autumn raspberry canes, which produced masses of fruit this year. Here's the pile I removed.
There are still some winter vegetables in the ground - above is the purple sprouting broccoli, with a solitary kale plant to the left. The leeks are also doing well and we will start eating them after Christmas. I also have some parsnips to dig up. But for now the main jobs are weeding and bed edges.
Here is the current pile of old paving stones which are awaiting placement on the vegetable plot. The pile is still growing, with two more added yesterday. This morning I moved four up and placed them as edges to beds. I plan to do lots more using some forced labour from my Other Half over his Christmas holidays...

Friday, 20 November 2009

A quick update...

Frequent rain and other commitments this week have meant no time for gardening. But the autumn raspberries are still producing fruit, surprisingly!

The weather has been atrocious, with extremely heavy rain. Below is a picture of the river which runs past my house, I needed to work on it quite a bit to make it visible as it was very dark.
Just to give you an idea of the amount of water rushing past my windows, in summer its normal depth at this point is around ankle deep. If I was standing on the bed of the river in this torrent, the water would be well over my head! While we did have a flood watch in this area (around 30 yards away this river joins the much larger Irwell, one of the major rivers in northwest England), we did thankfully escape flooding this time.

I thought I'd post this while I have an internet connection as my broadband has been very patchy the last few days, I suspect that somewhere my line is running underwater!

Anyway, I'm off to mix up my Christmas puddings now, ready for cooking tomorrow...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Winter Has Arrived

For over a week we have had rain every day, so no opportunity to get outside. Strong winds have also removed most of the leaves from the trees now. But today we have had a whole day without rain!
Last night was the first air frost of the season, so winter has definitely arrived. I love the way it leaves droplets of water on the leaves of plants like this leek.
My vegetable plot gets little sun during the winter months and so the frost can stay on the ground all day; this photo was taken at 2 pm when the temperature was well above freezing, but crystals of ice remained in a few spots.
I was able to finish some plot edgings using the recycled flagstones I have obtained. This is a section of the plot which has a slope and the soil falls off the edge. The old edging was of wood and woven willow, but was rotting so I have replaced it with these flagstones. If I was a perfectionist the top of each stone would be level with its neighbours but I'm a pragmatist - these are recycled stones of all shapes and sizes and as long as they do the job, I'm happy. Hard, hard work, I still have lots of stones left so will be working through them all winter.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Christmas Cactus

It's a dark and wet day here today - these photos were taken at 9am and I needed the flash on the camera, so we are now well and truly into the traditional wet autumn weather. I have been doing some work on the vegetable plot, mainly putting paving stones in to create new edges for the beds. It's slow work as I can only move 3 or 4 in a session due to their weight. Still, the workmen did take them up to the plot for me, which was kind. There's another pile growing outside my house now.

So here are a couple of pictures of my first christmas cactus to flower (click on them for best effect). I have four, and a few years ago they started to reduce in flowering or flower partially at the wrong time. I consulted Dr Hessayon's bible of houseplant care and realised that they weren't getting the right kind of rest period in the summer. You're supposed to put them outside, in the shade, with little water so they can rest. If I put them outside here they would be eaten by the slugs and snails, so I had to think about how I could replicate the conditions. I realised that the coolest and darkest place in the house in the summer is on top of the bookcase in the living room so I moved them there last year. Then last winter I started to give them specialist cactus food, but they still didn't flower. I gave them the same treatment this summer and - hey presto - they are looking healthy and the first two are flowering. A lovely sight in these dark gloomy days.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Autumn Odds and Ends

It's not been a very colourful autumn here - this is the best tree I could find on my travels yesterday. Most of the leaves are simply turning brown and falling off straight away or falling off green, and today's strong winds will have removed even more of the leaves. Strong winds were a feature of the spring, and caused a chill which slowed the progress of many of my fruits and vegetables.
My activities outdoors will now consist more of walking than gardening. The time between now and March is one of rest for me, with only occasional digging and other preparation works on the plot. But before I could relax, there was one last job to do.
This morning I bottled the last of my apples and the wild pears I picked a couple of weeks before. Bottling is what people used to do before freezers, it's simple and effective. Above is a jar of apples - for this you really need Kilner jars whose lid is in two pieces; a round sealing disc which sits on top and the screw top which helps keep the seal tight. You pack the fruit in the jar, cover it with a syrup (8 oz sugar to 20 fl oz water) which is at boiling point, sit the sealing disc on top (not the screw top) and put it in a cool oven (gas 2/3) on a tray lined with newspaper. It takes about an hour for the fruit to cook through, take it out, put the screw top on so that the seal makes contact with the top of the jar. Then you wait for the "click" as the cooling jar forms a vacuum seal - it happens in a minute or two. Once it has cooled, all you have to do is tighten the screw top to ensure a permanent seal.
In addition to the pounds of fruit which went straight into the freezer, here is my collection of preserves made from this year's fruit: bottled pears, plums and apples, and lots of jam - mainly redcurrant, but also gooseberry and rhubarb, raspberry, raspberry & redcurrant, and plum. I haven't bought any jam or tinned fruit in years!

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Last Courgettes

At the weekend I picked the last courgettes for this year (above). It's been a good crop, over a few months so I'm happy with that. Also in the basket is a collection of slug-nibbled chard, which I harvested from the tomato bed before clearing it (they had self-seeded, so a completely free crop). And yes, those are my wellies sneaking into the picture.

The potatoes will also be finished this week - we've been eating them since mid- June, so have had them for four months. The onions will also finish in a couple of days, a poor crop this year, like many other gardeners in this part of the world.

So I have been back to the greengrocer this week to buy onions and potatoes from Ormskirk (a local potato). Sad, but I still have more chard, leeks, parsnips, cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli from the vegetable plot to look forward to over the coming months.

Posting here will diminish now - the work consists mainly of clearing and composting beds for the winter and though you may be a keen gardener, photos of soil are really not very inspiring! I hope to be able to get all the preparation work done by the end of November - I'm well on track. Then there are other structural jobs to do, and things like buying a new apple tree. So I may not post so often now, only on interesting new things.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Recycling and clearing

For the last few weeks, a workman called David has been replacing paving outside people's houses in the village. All the roads are unadopted so we have to pay for tarmac and paving ourselves (and yes, we still have to pay council tax despite the fact we get bugger all for it). Most of mine was done for free by United (No)-Utilities last year when they dug a trench outside my house to fix an electrical fault, let's gloss over the fact that they also cut through the gas pipe to my house twice - I did get my paving done for free. So I only have a little stretch of a few flags which needed attention and I have arranged to have it done on the cheap using recycled flags instead of the new ones others are having.

At the same time, I mentioned to David that I would happily take the broken flags for use on my vegetable plot, so here is the first pile. There will be more - he started flagging outside one house in the village, then got asked to do more and more so he's been here for weeks now. Like him, a painter called Peter got a job down here 3 years ago and has rarely had a week away since. That's the way it is here - it's like the Village of the Damned, once a workman does a good job here he never escapes!
So this afternoon I started using them at the plot - the small ones first. These are going to make a good edge to a bed which was only cleared for the first time last year, so the weeds are not yet under control. You can use wood to create beds, but the wood rots and the slugs live in it, so I favour either recycled plastic beds or stone/concrete to create a barrier to the couch grass. On the left of the stones is an overgrown path, to the right is the pea bed, with spinach, chard and hundreds of weeds.
I took out the old tomato plants today, and weeding is proceeding apace now as the weather is good. I also picked some more herbs for drying - sage and rosemary here.
And here are some fennel seeds which I have brought into the house to finish drying. More gardening tomorrow in the sunshine.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

More weeding...

Back to the weeding again - the tall weeds are now out of the leeks, as you can see. They're growing quite well for this time of year, as they are late winter leeks and put most of their growth on in January. These are in one of the beds used for potatoes earlier in the year.
Here's one of the newly re-discovered parsnips, free from its weedy prison. Most of the bed is now clear, just need to take a spade to one corner and the edges as the grass has grown in a bit.
This is nasturtium Tom Thumb - a small plant suitable for pots as it doesn't grow into a triffid. I found some of these seeds earlier this year as I was clearing out a drawer - they were years old but I thought I'd plant them in hope of some late summer flowers. A cheerful flower at this time of year.

Rain today, more gardening later this week, I hope.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Back to the vegetable plot

After the third wet summer in a row, once again the weeds have become rampant. There are parsnips in here somewhere...
The soil is good and light, so I made good progress in clearing it this afternoon. One hour of weeding is enough for my back. The freshly weeded strawberries can be seen just beyond this bed.
Of course, this is the holy grail of weeding - a clear bed with not a weed in sight (for now, it never lasts long!). Wish more of them were like this - sigh...
Purple sprouting broccoli - a thoroughly reliable vegetable which will be ready in April. The plants are big and strong now.
The "summer" cabbages are finally hearting up. Just goes to show what kind of a summer we have had when they are only going to be ready to eat in October! Note the weeds around this cabbage, the bed won't be weeded until the cabbages are finished.
There are only two courgettes left, then they will have finished. The tomato plants are suffering due to cold night temperatures, as you may be able to see from this photo. So today I took all the remaining fruit off...
most of them will ripen now when put with the apples I picked some weeks ago. If not, they go into my frying pan - I love fried green tomatoes.
The Cosmos plants are still flowering and putting on a good show. We should have a few good sunny days this week, so I should be able to get out to do more weeding later.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Back to the outdoors

After a difficult week, yesterday morning I managed to get out for an hour or so in the sunshine. All the hawthorns (above) are now ablaze with red berries and we await the arrival of the fieldfares and redwings from Scandinavia who will eat them up over winter.
My other reason for getting out was to pick these pears. There are a couple of trees growing wild near here, they don't fruit every year but mostly every two years. They are just ripening and starting to fall off the tree, so I got a big bag of them. I will bottle them after letting them ripen indoors for a bit longer.

I was hoping to get out to the vegetable patch this morning but we have had unexpected rain. Perhaps this afternoon will be fine. The runner beans have now finished, we have had more courgettes this week though, the tomatoes and raspberries are still going strong and the cabbages are finally bulking up. Now it's just weeding and soil preparation for next year.
And a final word on the subject of cats. This is Rosie, my remaining cat and sister to the cat who died earlier this week. Many thanks for your kind words of sympathy on this blog and on Ravelry.

Losing Jim was a wrench. He was a high maintenance cat, prone to anxiety and consequent behavioural problems. But I learned to manage his issues and he became a very happy cat - the time and effort required for this is probably one reason I miss him so much. He had a vast range of vocal, facial and other physical expressions which told me how he was feeling and what he wanted, which is why his death was such a shock as he gave no indication he was seriously ill, just a bit under the weather from time to time. I miss him padding into my office every morning in his never-ending Quest for More Food, which was his mission in life.

Anyway, life goes on and we are adjusting to his absence. Rosie has times when she is very unsettled, as she was earlier this morning. She spent her whole life with him, so life is very different for her now. As Jim's scent and presence gradually fade from the house into memory, she is slowly becoming the Top Cat here, and making the place her own. Changes of this nature are never welcome, but happy memories of the past are enough to help us move forward into whatever the future brings.

Monday, 5 October 2009

In Memoriam - Jim

On Thursday I posted a picture of busy lizzies and my cat Jim wandered into the shot. I didn't know it then, but it was the last picture I would ever take of him. Shortly after that, the stomach condition which had been affecting him intermittently over the last few weeks got a lot worse.

On Saturday, the vet uttered the dreaded words "stomach cancer" and arranged to take him in on Tuesday for further investigation. But on Sunday he deteriorated, and overnight became very uncomfortable so I took him in this morning. The subsequent operation confirmed my worst fears - stomach cancer which had spread to other organs, so I took the difficult decision not to let him wake up from surgery.

Despite his discomfort yesterday, he spent the afternoon and evening outside in his favourite spot where he spent many hours watching birds and bats over the nine years of his life. Despite his inability to settle comfortably last night, he snuggled up to me from time to time and I woke with him lying in his accustomed position on my feet.

I am glad that over the last two years I spent huge amounts of time with him through working at home, I am glad the illness which killed him was mercifully short and that he had less than 24 hours of real discomfort at the end.

He had perfected the "begging" look (usually accompanied by a prod with his sharp claws) when he wanted food, he used the bedpost as a scratching post, destroyed other wooden items in the house, upholstery and clothing. But he was always great and affectionate company in good times and bad, and I shall miss him deeply.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Introducing Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo

Don't know why, but the names Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo just came to mind when I looked at these pumpkins! The plants had finally keeled over, so I lifted the remaining three pumpkins today. This picture was taken in the late afternoon sun and taking it reminded that there will be no more direct sun in this window until April now. As the sun sinks lower in the sky for winter, my house gets darker. Autumn definitely here, winter on the way, but I will have plenty of pumpkins to warm me!
You may recall in an earlier post that I discovered I had a mouse visiting my shed and eating my pea seeds. Well, once I removed the peas it moved on to eating some old coriander seed. Clearly it was yummy as it's all gone, but the mouse has now become dissatisfied with the fare provided and moved on to devouring my kneeling pad. Note the lovely frilly edge it has acquired! Well in another autumn ritual - The Tidying of the Shed - I found the place it has been getting in and stopped it up as best I could. Unfortunately the whole of the bottom plank at the back of the shed is rotten so it may find its way in again. Another job to put on my list for next year...
Lots more raspberries, more to come. I also finished weeding the strawberry patch, one month after I started!
My busy lizzies and lobelia are still going strong four months on! Good value for money...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Autumn Crocus and other autumn goodies

Several years ago I bought some autumn crocuses, which flowered for one year and then died. This was the only one to survive, and each year it pops up for a little while to brighten my day.
We had a trip to Leighton Moss RSPB reserve yesterday, and they have a stretch of trees completely covered in ivy, which is now flowering. It's a beautiful sight, humming with insects, and provides fruit for the birds through the winter. I also keep ivy, but it's not as pretty as this.
I think these berries are guelder rose, there are a few small bushes of it near home, but here there were big tree-size bushes, covered in bright red berries. Unfortunately the bush isn't really garden material (too scruffy!) or we'd see a lot more of it around.
Here are some redshanks (note the orange-red legs!) having a snooze with one eye open, standing on one leg. They're really comical birds, very active and noisy when awake.
And some deer - eight of them were lazing around a pool. Tricky to get pictures in the flat, cloudy light, and this was the best I got. A mixture of males, females and juveniles feeding among the reeds and grass. Sorry the pictures aren't better quality, but it's difficult taking them in a hide and the d...ned animals kept moving!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

More Produce

At the moment, work is a 6-day business, so I really don't have time to get out in the garden. Instead, I just pick whatever is ready. Here we have runner beans, courgettes, raspberries and, shock! ripe tomatoes grown outdoors.

I'm amazed that the tomatoes have ripened, but I'm not complaining. I may have some more next week. The raspberries are now mostly made into jam, yum. If the frost stays away, we should have fruit into November. The canes are covered in fruit, so here's hoping.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Late September

Sorry about the lack of postings - I am now in one of my busy times with work and so don't have as much time to do other things. So a quick scoot round the late September garden will have to do for today.

We are settled in a longish spell of dry, sunny weather, sometimes quite warm. So there are a few jobs to be done before it breaks - the first being painting the shed, which didn't get done last year due to all the rain. Here is the newly painted shed. Of course quite a lot of the paint ended up on me, my clothing and in my hair...
Here is one of the autumn raspberry plants - we're picking every few days now, it has been a very good year for them, like all the fruit in the garden.
Cosmos flowers.
This is the last and biggest of my pumpkins, Small Sugar. It's just starting to turn now - the others are orange already, but this one has taken its time.
Even my outdoor tomatoes are ripening in the autumn sunshine, which is very surprising. We are forecast to have another couple of weeks of mostly sunny and dry weather, so there's hope for the green ones yet!
These are the leeks - plus weeds. These are late winter leeks, for eating after Christmas, so at present they are pencil thick and will bulk up later. It looks like a good crop - the dratted slugs got about 20 or so, but these will survive now.
We went out for a walk on the moors today in the sunshine. Most of the heather has long since finished flowering, but there are a few clumps of pink heather still pushing up their blooms.
These are ruins of some of the quarry buildings. The chimney is a local landmark and was in danger of falling down a few years ago. It has been stabilised now, along with some of the buildings around it. This quarry was deserted around 100 years ago, but when we were there today there were lots of birds around and even a stoat, plus a few people walking through. A lovely sunny day.

I hope to get back to the gardening soon...