The house martins have left. This morning I watched them wheeling in the air before they alighted on a telegraph wire. A long line of them – a ‘gulp’ of martins (according to a bird identification website). Most of the martins lined up on the wire – a few had fun using the newly stretched poly tunnel cover as a bouncy castle. When I looked for them a few hours later they were gone.
The days feel chillier – I dragged out my work fleece the other day. It is definitely the season of morning mists. I have been plucking blackberries off the brambles and casting them into a melee of chicks. We have been picking the yellow plums. They are on the cusp of over-ripeness. The kitchen is filled with a rich, honey aroma.
The pumpkins and squashes have taken over the veg. plot. Which is a good thing as the sprawl hides the weeds. Can’t see the weeds, so de facto no weeds!
Goodbye Summer, hello Autumn.
(Apologies to Shakespeare)
I need some of those really, really big labels – the ones Monty Don sticks at the end of his line of newly planted whatever veg. I have those little twiddly plastic ones that go missing about a week after you’ve stuck them in the ground.
Hence the mystery potato dilemma. I know which are the Red Duke of York, (a no brainer), Charlotte, ditto – Winston, (only because I didn’t lose the label), and I think I have matched up the Pentland Javelin and Lady Balfour to the appropriate labels uncovered in the earth. That leaves the mystery potato – looks a bit like Lady Balfour but has a purple instead of a pink splash. Oh well. The chicks came out to help. Small chick eating a big worm is an impressive sight – I’m amazed they have enough room in their crop.
Digging the potatoes was a sidetrack from completing the polytunnel put up. It’s the pleating bit at the ends that is the real pain in the a**e. The first attempt at pleating was not too bad …. (it went downhill rapidly). Tricky. We retired indoors for a cup of tea.
There’s always tomorrow…..
Reading this week: The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane.
Last year the weather conditions resulted in zero top fruit. This year the combination of no fruit set the year before and better weather has meant heavy crops.
I made sure to put aside time to strip all the fruit off the ‘new orchard’ trees – didn’t want any broken branches on the young trees – oh no – of course not! How virtuous I felt.
Though perhaps I should also have put aside some time to work in the ‘old orchard’. The truth is I hadn’t been in there for a number of weeks, mainly because I knew I needed to do some weeding, (actually – a lot of weeding).
I wandered in there the other day and was astounded by the heavy crop of plums and damsons dripping from the trees – when the heck did that happen?
But we have some tree limb casualties as result of the fruit overload. The trees are old, but even so it is likely that a few hours thinning would have prevented the damage. I won’t remove the branches yet, the fruit may still ripen. I have no idea what the varieties are – the yellow plum looks like it might be ‘Yellow Pershore’ – the others – damsons (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia). I’d better dig out the jam pan.
The crop from the soft fruit we planted was, understandably, sparse. We had bought the tail end of the nursery bare root offering – marked down for sale. I didn’t expect much – the bushes/canes were already breaking into leaf so it would be touch and go to get the plant established let alone produce fruit in the first season, (not the best way to purchase bare root – buy early!). We picked it all – blackcurrants, redcurrants, the cornelian drops of the Hinnomaki Red gooseberry, added a few strawberries and made a single summer pudding.
One glorious, delicious pudding from the whole crop of the year.
Reading this week: No Nettles Required by Ken Thompson (a good book for dispelling the myths surrounding ‘wildlife’ gardening).
I came across the teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris), in the lawn and later carefully mowed round it. I love teasels. There was a mass of them at my parents’ cottage in Somerset. My mother used to spray the dried heads silver and gold and hang them at Christmas. As a child I thought this was rather naff, (along with the spray painted pine cones), preferring shiny, gaudy baubles. I’m now coming round to mum’s approach on festive decorations, (….though I still have a soft spot for mismatched, gaudy baubles).
But the teasel got me thinking – we have masses of wilderness areas on the small holding stuffed with nettles, mature ivy and other native plants. We don’t use chemicals, the farmer next door farms organically – but I haven’t really clocked any butterflies in any quantity. The odd one, but nothing like the numbers I used to come across. Except for cabbage whites – guaranteed to have those flitting over the veg. plot. Buddleja flowers mid to late summer – guaranteed to pull in the insects – but perhaps I need to take a holistic look at the planting – more plants that the caterpillars need for food, more nectar rich flowers for the butterflies.
On another note – the chicks are venturing out more though still sticking close to mum. I’m not sure mum appreciates the ‘lets pile on top’ game whilst she is having a dust bath!
Last night the sky was clear of cloud and full of stars. An immense universe spread out in front of me. I tried to take a photograph of the constellations above me but failed. However it made me think about mortality and my father who died young and what we leave behind. My father died before any of my nieces and nephews were born so they have no memory of him. I have a few photos, some scraps of his handwriting and memories.
So what will I and my husband leave behind? We have planted shelter belts and orchards at the small holding but these tend to be, or can be, short-lived. However on the holding we have a number of substantial trees – the massive oak in the field, a fine focal point at any time of year, and 2 walnuts, Juglans regia.
Earlier this year I stumbled across a young walnut growing in the veg. plot. I potted it up and we shall plant it out in the field. In spite of the name the English Walnut isn’t a native tree, it originates from Central Asia.
But as the juvenile sprouted from a nut that had been overlooked by the squirrel, (a rare occurrence), we shall keep it. The English walnut has one of the biggest canopies of all so it needs space. Perhaps we shall plant it where another large oak once stood (gone before the start of our tenure here). With luck it will grow into a tree the size of our remaining oak.
A good thing to leave behind.
Reading this week: Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
We have started to lift the alliums, red, white and most important of all…. the garlic! This is late, but given the cold start to the year not so surprising. The Early Purple Wight variety has produced some fine fat heads. We also have Albigensian, Lautrec and Iberian to try. Last year we lost a good proportion of the onion crop – they had taken on so much water that they didn’t store well. We’re hoping for a better storing result this time round.
Elsewhere on the veg. plot the cucumbers, sweetcorn, and squashes are bulking up. I have, as always, planted too many courgettes, but the varieties are interesting and I try to pick the fruits young so as to avoid the marrow overload. My work colleagues are still willing recipients of any courgette glut – though for how much longer who knows?
I wandered about the plot this evening as the light levels started to dip. The bees are still flying. We have several large patches of borage self seeded from last year. Borage is a VERY prolific seeder but the plants are easily weeded out. I like to leave a number of clumps as they produce masses of bright blue flowers, loved by the bees and the flower makes a pretty addition to a glass of Pimms. Not that I know as I never seem to have a bottle of Pimms available at flowering time!