Trying a different tack with the blog today – just going to post some pics from the weekend.
Spent Saturday in the garden working on the veg patch – sowed a few more seeds, spread some compost, erected the sunflower frame.
You may be wondering what’s that on the side of the compost bin – well that’s what happens if you compost your not quite 100% cotton undies!
Then in the event I went to a HEOG meeting – a bread making demonstration. I’ve always thought bread-making was time consuming and faffy, but Susie made it look quick and easy. Feeling inspired to have a go. We ate lots of the stuff she cooked, and the pizza was especially yummy – although the smell of garlic on my breath this morning was so strong I’m amazed Keith managed to get in the room with me!
Finally set off back to the station, but managed to miss my train home by seconds – actually pressed the door open button, but they were already locked. Damn! 30 minute wait for the next one.
No photos from today, but we went to our son’s house across town and chopped back his massive laurel hedge for him. The have done some sewing because it was too cold and damp for gardening.
So the 2016 season is off to a good start with a trip to the Edible Garden Show and the first HEOG meeting of the year.
We had booked tickets for the Edible Garden Show way back in the autumn as it has returned to Stoneleigh which is very close to where we live. We went the first year (2011, I think) and haven’t been back since. Although it has grown since then and now fills 2 exhibition stalls, we were a little disappointed in the range of stuff and are not sure we’ll bother again. A big thing on my shopping list was seeds, and I have decided for 2016 to go as organic as possible and use organic seeds where they are available. Sadly, they weren’t available at the show – if they were, I didn’t manage to find them. I did buy some non-organic flower seeds to add to an ornamental area of the garden. Not that I subscribe to the idea that only food should be grown organically, more that I didn’t think I’d be able to get organic seeds of chinese chives from alternative suppliers. Most of the other stuff for sale seemed a bit ‘gadgety’ if I’m honest. There were lots of tools, but when you’ve been gardening for years, you don’t need to buy many tools. It all seemed a little too much like the GW show at Birmingham, full of stuff bought by people who like the idea of gardening but would rather buy it than do it. One exhibitor caught our eye – a composting toilet system. For some time I’ve been planning to install a loo in the lower reaches of the garden. My plan was to buy a shed and just pop a simple bucket and loo seat in it, with the bucket filled with sawdust – this would only be suitable for urine, but who pops down the garden for a poo? Ecotoilets supply a much posher system – fancy shed, separating toilet for liquid and solid waste, solar panels for provide light. But all in all, I think this is rather overkill for a garden loo – much more suited to allotment sites and boats etc. Mind you, I am tempted to replace one of the loos in our house with one of these fancy ones – it always seems such a waste to flush all that lovely nitrogen away.
A highlight of the morning was meeting Sean Cameron from the horticultural channel. He was an interesting and engaging speaker and has given me food for thought about this blog and my twitter, instagram and facebook activities.
After lunch we headed into the second hall. This was full of delicious food vendors, which we wish we had known before we bought boring sandwiches from the main cafe. It was labelled as the ‘good life’ exhibition and I was expecting more crafts and homemaking skills than artisan foods. So although it was interesting, we bought very little as we were full from our lunch.
An enjoyable part of the show is the smallholding section. I keep a few chooks and have no intention of expanding the livestock here, but I do love to see and hear about smallholding and the small-scale keeping of animals. So we watched the goats and sheep for a while.
After a successful potato day, the HEOG meetings started again properly with a talk from Suzanne from Down to Earth in Earlsdon, Coventry. It’s not a shop I’m familiar with as I don’t really go to Coventry to shop, and certainly not for food. But the conversation was interesting and I particularly liked the idea of organic meat and fish being sold from ‘under the counter’ so as not to upset the vegan customers. I must confess, I’m more interested in hearing about gardening and growing than shopping, and I tend to choose local food over organic (I do lots of our shopping at a farm shop on my way home from work, then top up with a Suma order every few months and supermarkets for everything these places don’t supply). My issue with this type of shop is that they are quite difficult for a working person to access – there’s nothing near my place of work, and they tend to be closed by the time I get home. I know I could shop on Saturdays, but I resent spending daylight hours shopping when I could be in the garden. So I’m not a great supporter of independent organic shops, I’m afraid. But the talk about how the business has grown and developed over the years was enlightening.
HEOG have a full programme of events lined up for the summer and autumn, and I have a new camera, so I’m hoping to document them more, take more photos and blog a little more. But we’ll see – I’ve planned that before and not done it, so I’m not prepared to make any promises!
So, Keith and I joined our local organic gardening group, HEOG, and have been to a few interesting talks and meetings. Last week, we went one sunny evening to Pleasance Farm, near Kenilworth. Although this isn’t an organic farm, it is in the Natural England Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme – I’m not sure of the detail of what that means, but I do know that it’s about farmers being paid for environmentally friendly practices, such as planting trees and encouraging wildlife.
The farmer explained that although they haven’t gone for organic certification they do try to keep artificial fertilisers and sprays to a minimum. The main business of the farm is fattening beef steers for Waitrose. They grow crops primarily to feed to the cattle. This mixed farming has resulted in well-managed soils with high levels of organic matter. They grow wheat, barley and lupins for the cattle, plus some plants to provide seed for overwintering birds. They have also planted a small native broad leaf woodland, and run a small pheasant shoot here.
As we looked around, the cattle spotted us and ran over to investigate:
Very nosy cattle
The cattle are kept in the Pleasance field – the Pleasance being the late medieval guest accommodation wing for Kenilworth castle – it’s just lumps and bumps in a field now but causes lots of headaches as it is a listed monument:
Kenilworth Castle, viewed from Pleasance Farm
While this wasn’t a gardening related evening, it was a pleasant way to spend a sunny evening. It’s interesting too, to hear that many farmers reject organic certification as too restrictive, and prefer to farm in an environmentally responsible way, while reserving the right to use artificial fertilisers and weed-killers where they believe it to be necessary. In recent years, organic certification hasn’t necessarily given returns large enough to justify the cost – and if the ultimate buyer (Waitrose, in this case) doesn’t want organic produce, why bother with certification?
Personally I’m trying to reduce my meat consumption as it’s a huge factor in a personal environmental footprint – particularly for beef and lamb. But when I do consume it, I’d prefer it to come from environmentally responsible farmers like these. However, we don’t have a Waitrose in the town where I live, and anyway, the cattle have travelled to Lincolnshire for slaughter (because Waitrose only use 2 slaughterhouses in England, and that’s the nearest) so it’s hardly local. Mind you, I buy meat from a local farm shop, and I don’t know where their animals have to travel to for slaughter. Must ask.
For ages I’ve had a hankering to learn to spin – not the exercise bike kinda spin, but spin yarn from sheep fleece. Last July I joined in Tour de Fleece and taught myself how to use a drop spindle. I had more or less decided to buy a wheel and learn that too.
My enquiries led me to Pam Austin’s Spinning School, and I was persuaded to try the beginner’s package rather than jump straight in and buy a wheel. For £80 you get a ‘how to spin’ lesson; then the loan of a wheel for a month, complete with plenty of fleece, carders and other necessary bits and bobs; then a second ‘how to ply’ lesson. After this you can continue to rent a wheel until you find the right one for you; or you can buy. Or not.
I had my first lesson with Pam a few weeks ago, and got photographed for her website too – thanks to Julie Walker for the picture:
Pam teaching me to spin
So, the idea is that I spin up at least 2 bobbins, then return on 28th March for part 2. I’m so pleased I took up the beginner’s package because I’ve decided that this really isn’t for me at this point in my life. I like spinning, I’m not bad at it. But I do find myself saying ‘just 15 minutes, then you can pick up your knitting’. And a lot of the yarn that spinners seem to produce is of the variegated variety – lost of colour blending and pretty yarn. Now I’m not very arty (much more mathsy, if there is such a thing!), and I do like the pretty yarn. BUT I don’t like the finished objects it turns into – they’re all just a bit too hippy knit-your-own-yoghurt for my taste. And I am a product knitter – it’s the finished object that I covert and that’s why I do it.
Now I could spin plain coloured yarns (then combine them as I knit, using stranded colourwork techniques) – but I can buy these yarns. In fact, with a bit of care I can get local, or at least British, yarns quite easily – dyed or undyed. So I’ve decided not to buy a wheel right now. The time is better spent improving my knitting and sewing skills. And the money I’ll save can always be spent elsewhere (like the garden for example). I think there is a spinning wheel in my future – I’ll put it on my retirement list. So I’ll spin my 2 bobbin, and have my second lessons – then I can say ‘I can spin, but I don’t’.
Pam runs Woolly Days every month – I hope I’ll still be welcome, without being a spinner. Last month the focus was on knitted socks:
I think it’s probably true to say that most of the people who came to our garden open day were attracted by the music, and less people came because they’re interested in organic gardening, local food production and permaculture. For future events, that’s something I’d like to address – to attract more people for that reason. But I’m not sure how to achieve that. Okay, I was lazy with the publicity for the 2014 event, relying almost solely on social media. But then I am in a couple of Facebook groups with this kind of focus, and I did share my event there. I know that if I’m looking for gardens to visit that inspire me; I find it quite difficult to find out what’s going on.
Visitors amongst the cosmos
One of things I thought might work is National Gardens Scheme – this is where people open their gardens to the public, and the money all goes to NGS, who pass it on to charities. A couple of huge advantages here are that they are well known, and there’s some guarantee of quality. They produce a ‘yellow book’ of gardens to visit each year, and their gardens are generally well-attended. Speaking as someone who has actually been shown a ‘garden’ as part of a non-NGS open gardens trail, which consisted of just lights and gnomes, not even any grass, the quality guarantee is important. I want to know that what I’m going to see is something worth seeing. But this means that there’s an inspection process. If you offer your garden to this scheme, some very nice ‘local organisers’ come and take a look.
Bee on calendula
So the point of this tale is that these local organisers came to our event last month, and then very politely declined to include me in the scheme in future. One of the reasons listed is ‘in short, we would like to see more flowers’! Now I know my ornamental borders would score a ‘could do better’ grade in class, but I’ve been to NGS gardens where I would give that grade to their vege gardens, wildlife areas and orchards. So I guess what this is telling me is that they are not judging gardens with the same set of criteria. I don’t think it’s the local organisers’ fault – they may well have understood and even enjoyed what they saw, but they know their audience and what they want to see. Also, the rules say that your garden must provide ‘at least 40 minutes of interest’. Now I had looked at my garden and thought that if I were to visit something similar it would take a good couple of hours to get round it. However, having watched our guests explore this garden I realise now that I’m extremely slow. It seems that not everyone is as geeky as me. So maybe there isn’t that much for the average visitor to see – especially if overflowing flower beds and immaculate lawns are what they’re looking for.
But where does this leave me? I was never entirely sure we were right for NGS, but thought it worth a go. I know when I look in the yellow book for places to visit, I struggle to find anything I think is really interesting. But I don’t know where else to seek out ideas. Garden Organic used to run a scheme where members could open their gardens, with profits going to Garden Organic, but that’s been run right down these days – I think I saw just one garden advertised under that scheme this year. Also, there’s no inspection so no guarantee of quality, or even ‘organicness’ (is that a word?). The Permaculture Association has its LAND scheme, but that’s more aimed at small producers and social inclusion projects. In order to be included in that, you need to accept volunteers at least 4 weekends a year (I think). A private garden with owners with full-time jobs, families and other commitments, just doesn’t fit into this scheme.
Well, we won’t be doing another open day until 2016 so there’s plenty of time to think on this some more. Obviously it would be great if a new scheme sprang up based on allotments and productive gardens, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Maybe I’ll add it onto my list of projects for my retirement? In the meantime, maybe I should try harder to grow an audience for this blog, my Facebook page, and get more Twitter followers. But then, that means writing more, tweeting more etc. And actually, I’m too busy doing it to write more than I do (although I could try and remember to Tweet more often). Maybe next time, I could do more work on the old-fashioned publicity side – tell the local paper, for a start. And send flyers to local gardening clubs – I don’t actually go to them because they’re too focussed on flowers!
Yay, we did it! The sun shone (a bit), the musicians played, helpers made tea and served cake (thanks to Anna, Dot and Sorrel). Around 100 paying guests came, plus children. In total we made £430 for Friends of the Earth.
But it was loads of work – the garden looks tidier than ever before 🙂 But I think we won’t be repeating it until 2016. There’s lots of pics on FaceBook but here’s some for now:
Haven’t blogged for quite a few weeks – May is such a busy month in the garden. And I’ve made 2 dresses and been knitting too. Oh, and finished another module for my Master’s degree. So it’s been a bit busy! But anyway….
The veg plots are finished (huge grin):
Looking up the garden
Looking down the garden
So we started with a plan, and a big pile of wood, back in March:
Wood for building vege beds
Keith took 3 weeks off in April, and started by using the large sleepers to build steps to terrace the space – these are ideal for plonking plants on, and for sitting drinking tea while admiring your work 🙂
First step is in
Drinking tea, admiring Keith’s work
Then he put Mypex on the paths, and built the beds – these are just frames laid on to the ground. They’re not raised but only 4 inches high – over time the soil level in the beds should come up as we cultivate and add organic matter, but they don’t need filling, like conventional raised beds.
Laying Mypex paths
Next step was to add organic matter – because we haven’t grown any veg for a few years, but have continued to make compost and leafmould, we had lots. We are trying to sourse some horse manure for future years but it appears to be under the control of disorganised teenagers! Anyway, I put compost where I planned to grow spuds, brassicas, flowers, and squashes. Spaces for legumes, onions and roots got leafmould. Then I planted the first crop – spuds:
The first crop is planted
And because it’s ‘no dig’, earthed up with straw (must add more this weekend):
Potatoes under a straw mulch
Finally we added gravel to the paths. The original plan was to have a work-party to do this, but when it arrived it didn’t look too much, so Keith moved it all himself.
Doesn’t it look lovely?
In the second strawed bed are sunflowers and sweet peas – growing up the bamboo canes. The straw is to retain moisture and keep down weeds. However, I haven’t put it on all the beds because there was lots of bindweed in the space before the black plastic was laid and I’m concerned it’s not dead yet! Bindweed loves mulch but hates regular disturbance, so I’m hoeing the other beds regularly, and just hand weeding the 2 with straw. That was I should win the battle within a few years.
Under the Enviromesh are brussel sprouts and curly kale – just a few plants of each. These plants suffer with so many pests that it’s just easier to grow them under cover.
I have also planted some dwarf sunflowers, cosmos (not veg I know, but for picking), salads (need to do more this weekend), broad beans, peas, and runner beans. I need to re-sow my curcurbits as they have all suffered from slug attacks – but it’s not too late yet and they should germinate quickly in the warm weather we’re enjoying. I also lost my French beans to slugs, and had planned to pick up replacements at the farm shop – but I went there today and they have sold out 🙁 That probably means a trip to the garden centre will be needed one evening next week (I hate going there on sunny weekends – it’s manic and I could be gardening instead of shopping).
Other jobs for this weekend are to pot on the dahlias for the terracotta pots, and swap them with the tulips that have gone over now. Then to pot on some of my many tomato plants, and re-home the spares. This should lead to a tidier greenhouse which has become a bit of a mess as I concentrated on the vege plot:
It’s lovely that the garden’s looking so good – the roses are just starting to bloom, and a sunny weekend is forecast. Time to go do some hoeing before dark, then settle down with my knitting, a beer and Gardeners’ World.
See. the packet of seed was 2 years old this year – and that’s my rule to avoid non-germination disappointment. 2 years and then chuck them away. So, I thought, may as well sow them all. Then I sat down in my potting shed, to pot them on, put a Gardener’s Question Time podcast on, and got carried away. It wasn’t until I was putting them in the greenhouse that it occurred to me – just how many tomato plants does one family need? I mean I know it’s a big greenhouse, but 175?
Just a few of my tomato seedlings
Still, I have been quite restrained with other things. There are only 3 of each kind of squash, for example. Okay, there are 6 varieties, so that’s 18 plants, but that’s quite restrained. I was over-excited watching the new vege plot come together in front of the potting shed – pics and a blog post to follow in a week or so. So I have 2 beds allocated for squash each bed is 2.4m x 1.2m (or 8′ x 4′ on old money). They need to be about 90cm (3′) apart so it looks like they’ll be a little cramped. Oh, and I sowed some courgette plants too that are also supposed to fit in these beds. Looks like something might have to give!
It’s been a few years since we grew any veg, and I think I thought I couldn’t do it anymore – why else did I hedge my bets by sowing 48 kale seeds? There’s only one of the beds for brassicas and that has to accommodate brussel sprouts too. I do like kale, but I think 48 plants is too many!
I also have lots of flowers – sunflowers, sweet peas (think I’ll try the cordon method as demonstrated on the Big Allotment Challenge the other night), calendula, cosmos and nasturtiums (although they might be heading for the salad or herb department instead).
Nasturtiums and chillis
The greenhouse being full of these lovelies was just too much temptation for free-ranging chickens! They kept sneaking in and eating stuff – so I resorted to using the stair gate to keep them out – the grandkids have never fallen down our stairs anyway.
Greenhouse with anti-chicken stairgate
But today, I started adding compost and leafmould to the new vege beds – and the chooks were scratching it out onto the paths almost as quickly. Looks like they’ll be shut in their run from now on – that’s not especially cruel as it’s a pretty big run of about 8m x 8m in each section.
Anyway, that’s it for now. It’s Easter weekend coming up, so I’m planning on getting these veg beds partly planted – have spuds and onions and shallots ready to go in. We’re planning to get family and frinds round in a few weeks to help put the gravel on the paths – I’ll write about it and post some pics once that’s done. In the meantime, if you could use a tomato plant or two …
Besides the garden, and my crafts, the other thing we both enjoy is music. Keith is a really good musician – I’d link to some of his music, but he doesn’t record much at all, preferring the live experience. And we both enjoy live music. Not huge stadium bands, but more intimate happenings – house concerts. Here’s a BBC article about this phenomena.
The idea is that a host, with a large enough room, books an artist, usually a duo or solo act, then invites friends, neighbours and anyone else they can think of. I’d heard of these, and even tried to organise one once as a birthday treat for Keith, but failed to find a good act to book. Then, about a year ago, I spotted an ad on the notice board at a local farm shop, for Sheep Dip Sessions – followed it up and found myself on a mailing list. The hook originally was Dana and Susan Robinson, who we’d seen before, and really like. But they cancelled, after an i9ncident involving a snake and a fall from a ladder! Still, we decided to go along anyway and ended up seeing Rag Mama Rag.
I feel like I should add some pics here, but I never take photos because it feels rather intrusive in such a small room – 30 tickets is the maximum. I could purloin some from the artists’ websites, but then, you could just follow the links, if you’re interested …
Anyway, on Friday night we went to see Red Dirt Skinners – another excellent night. I’m not going to try and write a review, because I don’t think it’s something I can do well. What I would say is, if you get a chance to see any of these bands, then follow it up. And if you can find a house concert locally, get involved. And if you have space to host one … In fact, we probably need to do that sometime.