Monday 9 April 2012

April 2012

April - when as Philip Larkin said - 'The trees are coming into leaf   Like something almost being said' - April is also the time when I am usually to be found in the garden, especially this year as I am still creating it. I would love to be in the South of France but needs must and I am needed here this year.
So - Jobs for April - this time courtesy of - my tiny plot
  1. Start sowing in earnest with Kale, Parsnip, Carrots and Broadbeans directly into the ground
  2. Finish planting new fruit bushes
  3. Put up your bean poles
  4. Transplant tomato seedlings to individual pots. Still keep them inside
  5. Plant out Peas grown in guttering, sow more as you do and draw soil up around them as they grow
  6. Harden off Sweet Peas
  7. Sow successional crops such as lettuce, radish, rocket, spring onions, peas etc, every two weeks
  8. Sow some winter green such as Winter Cabbage and Sprouting Broccoli
  9. Clean up the strawberry bed; remove any dead or dying leaves
  10. Plant Brussels Sprouts and Spring Cabbage and Asparagus Crowns

Looking forward to preparing a new Strawberry bed today and will use this simple but brilliant idea that I found on Dobies of Devon as our darling Bella (Labrador) has a penchant for picking her own fruit.  And then there are the birds that I have been encouraging to come to the garden and feeding all through the winter. Not to mention my chickens, plus I have another two arriving over the Easter weekend so their territories will be re-negotiated whilst a new pecking order is established. I always find myself trying to defend the under dog or hen by hurling lumps of soil at the aggressor! Perhaps I should mind my own business and live and let live?
So this is the plot where my new Strawberry bed will be this year. As usual it's on a slope so I will try to level it off a bit. I think that I will also lower the path to the right to bring in more soil and dig in some manure. The Tadpoles are growing and are very happy in their new pond. It's just as well they came to me as all their brothers and sisters have inevitably been eaten by the very numerous and extremely ravenous enormous goldfish at Hill House. But I suppose that some must survive over there or else how would they know where to return each year to lay their frogspawn! I have dug up and potted on all the Strawberry plants from last year so there will be plenty to plant out. I'm definitely going to build that little frame affair above although I have seen some beautiful bent Bamboo devised for just the job but this project as centered around recycling so I will be using things that I have to hand or are donated or swopped with other gardeners.
So far so good but still a long way to go before I can plant out the Strawberry plants. If the soil is lumpy and a bit too dry I try to break it down as much as possible without the process becoming too much of a chore and then towards the end of the day I water the plot and then cover it up with that black fabric that is used for suppressing weeds. I find it invaluable stuff for many tings around the garden. Then I leave it over night and into the next morning in order to warm up and relax a little as it becomes so much easier to then break it down. The end aim is a fine tilth without weeds. My little friendly Robin follows me around the garden whenever I am digging as well as singing to me late into the night.
Taking shape. The grasses are starting to show their first green shoots around the pond at last and the Marsh Marigold is settling in too. There is still plenty to cultivate beyond. A week of rain is promised by the weathermen so I will at last be able to spend some more time in the studio. I love to paint when it's raining outside.
 Probably planted far too close together but the older I get, the less I am inclined to follow the rules.
Another interesting idea/product is a natural bamboo fruit cage also from Dobies. This comes as a kit for about £40. It is however only 5' high. I have always imagined that fruit cages should be able to be walked into and this is probably going to be the romantic image that I will hold onto this summer and try to create. Tree stakes are my answer and I will be making two fruit cages this year with them and rabbit proof wire netting. Whilst also building a chicken run and an extra hen house for one or two hens. A sort of convalescent unit. See post later on!
This plot is going to be for Asparagus. It is in an ideal position but is going to take a lot of preparation as it is predominately clay soil and is full of weeds - couch grass, creeping buttercup, nettles, dock and dandelion. This photo shows the beginning of the process, first digging it over, picking out as many weeds as possible and forking in lots of rotted manure. I will let it rest for a while and then dig it all again and take out more weeds which will have had a chance to show me where they are by sprouting! I will add some top soil too. I would like to put in a dozen plants. I have been growing them on in pots at a friends garden for 4 years now so, with the interruption of the fire and all that followed, they are really ready to go in now. I wish I had done this bed last year in readiness. I really hope that I can get it done in time. There is so much to catch up on from having a year off last year. I won't be doing that again.
Part of the plot is becoming gradually workable but there is still the other half to tackle.
I have become remarkably resilient this Spring and for the first time ever, my back is not aching. Quite an achievement. Nothing daunts me now. I get rather soft over winter and need to find some way of pretending to dig. Def not in the gym which I really do not like.
As yet I have not finished edging the plots with timber. I intend to use the hoe a lot this year too to skim off the weeds on the paths.
This is my dreadful pile of rubbish, slowly rotting down and looking very untidy, even for me. I shall get to work on it and throw it all to the back and cover it until it breaks down. I still have dreams of a series of proper compost bins.
I am going to put the chickens along this part of the garden this summer. There is a fox about and also now it's summer there are lots of people walking down the lane with their dogs. There are signs to say keep them on a lead at least if they're not trained to the whistle but hardly anyone uses a dog whistle or even really trains their dog as far as I can see so they're off running about and chasing my hens who for the most part have free ranged very happily. The other day one was attacked by a Spaniel and it looked like she was going to die but we took her to the vets and they stitched her up, put her on anti- biotics and so far so good. She is now in my bedroom quietly recovering. She is doing incredibly well. Every time I look at her back, neatly stitched back together I know I will never be able to eat chicken again. so this pen has been spurred on by the attack. It was going to be in the vegetable garden and probably will move there later. It seems that gardening is a constant process of readjusting and relocating.

I have painted the fence with off white masonary paint and begun to dig a trench for wire netting to deter foxes from dining on my chickens and I've planted a variegated grass behind the netting to bind the soil together and to grow through the wire. Next - the wooden posts and the netting. I will also have to try my hand at making a gate, nothing elaborate, just functional.
Fence - posts (well actually 7' tree stakes) painted and ready to go in. A few days of rain has given me time to rethink! So change of plan. If I put the chicken run here I know it would not really work as it may become a bit smelly over time and the sheltered garden across the path is where we will eat and relax so I have decided to put it in it's proper place which is down in the vegetable garden. Hey ho.

This is a Laurel bush and could be slightly poisonous to chickens but most people say that they just enjoy the shade it provides. It was enormous when I moved into the cottage and had it cut down and shredded as it blocked so much sunshine and cast a very long shadow. I am thinking at this stage that I will leave its valiant striving for rebirth and maybe trim it to keep it smaller than it used to be. "The main thing is to keep them happy." Quote from Minnie Rose Lovgreen's book - Recipe for Raising Chickens. A quite amazing little book for anyone interested in their hens. And after sixty years of loving and observing chickens, Minnie knew every trick in the book to keep them happy.
This hen pen is going to look amateurish I know. The posts are different heights, not always vertical or in line and a bit wobbly. The netting is not taut, in fact it is also a bit wobbly. I am an amateur. And this is actually the best I can do. I however don't mind all that much. Yes, I would prefer to be better but hopefully I will improve with more practice. It will all blend in and weather and will look great in the summer when it's got flowers growing up and along. It does in my minds eye at any rate! I need more tree stakes though as I'm going to make it as large as space allows.
The end of a long day and a typical April day of bright blue sky with enormous grey clouds passing by, each one with sudden, short, incredibly wet downpours or thundering hailstones that catch me out every time as I concentrate on getting these posts in. At least the clay ground has softened up.
I upload these photographs all too aware that it all looks a mess but knowing that this is a garden of constant transformation in pursuit of the beautiful. Must earth up those potatoes. First step is to paint the posts before it rains again, then firm them in.
Posts painted in between showers. Beginning to dig out an area 18" out from the posts for the wire netting to be buried under to deter Mr. Fox from dining on my ladies. I think the piles of soil will benefit from being enriched with hen poo. I will tidy it up and also will have to bring a sort of wire awning over the area near the fence or else the hens will no doubt escape. They will have their moments of free ranging freedom of course but for a while at least they will be restrained to allow the plants to at least get established. Potatoes earthed up!
The ground in the sheltered garden is very undulating which makes it difficult to have a table and chairs there so I am going to bring in soil from the vegetable garden from the area where the greenhouse will go as that part is extra high and can afford to be a lot lower. It will also ensure that the greenhouse doesn't tower above this little sheltered part and is settled into the overall garden.
This is the area where the greenhouse will go and where I can start digging out the soil for the lawn.
The work begins. This is going to be quite a big job so I will tackle it bit by bit over April.
It's amasing just how little a wheelbarrow actually holds when you want to move loads.
Nearly there. I really want to get the final layer of soil down. I have inverted lots of turf to fill in depressions and to try to level off the surface. So looking forward to seeding this new lawn before the end of April. I have a slow growing variety which is 'thick and lush' and another one which has lots of wild grasses and to which I have added wild flower seeds in abundance to scatter around the edges and under the Cherry tree. It is beginning to get rather exciting now after all the slog.
There is still a great deal of 'slog' to do here though. Making a gate for one thing, which I have never done before plus putting the wire netting up. I must go and get some thin wire to connect the two pieces of netting together. The string is a temporary solution! Temporary solutions often become permanent though.

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