Monthly Archives: April 2014

Swallows and Amazons

swallows&amazonsAh yes…. Arthur Ransome’s most classic tale in a classic series of books.   I read them all and still have a set on our library shelves.   As a child I always wanted to sail off in a dinghy, camp overnight on an island and eat pemmican, though I didn’t really know what pemmican was. To be fair the children in the book were actually packing corned beef along with the ‘grog’, (ginger beer – the English Coca cola of the 1930s).  Sadly, I am a truly appalling dinghy sailor, (just ask the OH), and I don’t like sleeping on hard earth with just a thin groundsheet & sleeping bag between cold grass and my back.  I’m a top quality mattress girl.   Though I quite like corned beef if my memory serves me.  I probably last ate corned beef about the last time I ate sliced tongue, haslet or luncheon meat, (what is in those cold meats?).  My how times change – it’s all parma ham, chorizo and prosciutto now down at the deli counter.

The nesting bird on the potting bench was a swallow.    All 5 eggs hatched and the hatchlings have fledged.  I can now go back and hang up all the garden tools that have cluttered up the first bay of the potting shed.  The swallows have been swooping in and out of the piggery bays like Spitfire fighter pilots.    One swallow might not make a spring – but I guess another 5 in the world is a pretty good start.

and the Amazon?…. well I have been swinging a mattock putting in the rows of potato.  I know, late as usual; the first earlies have gone in at the same time as the main crop.   Still –  as I always say – better late than never.

Reading this week: The Owl who liked sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow


‘A weed is but an unloved flower….’

No Mrs Wilcox, (authoress of above quote) – it’s a WEED.  I should know – I’ve been weeding the strawberries.

So nettles (Urtica dioica) – not nice – they sting. Brush up against a nettle and you get a hypodermic needle shot of venom. Ouch. But, this early in the season I could gather them up lovingly and make nettle soup.  Which is delicious and as it is stuffed full of vitamin A & C and iron is also very good for you.   Or, if I had the skill, I could strip out the fibres and weave some cloth – forget the  hair shirt – model a nettle Tee.  Treat aches and pains, arthritis, and asthma. Soooo, yes I can see lots of merit in the nettle.

But then there is bramble – which aren’t nice to pull even when they are small and wussy – but then they produce blackberries – which are delicious and also remind me of my childhood blackberrying in Somerset and then having apple and blackberry pie or summer pudding – and blackberry jam on a warm scone … HEAVEN!

Oh – but dock, (Rumex obtsifolius), dock isn’t good – surely – unless you’ve been stung by those pesky nettles and then dock rubbed on a nettle sting always seemed to make it better –  and when you manage to get the whole root out – well – how satisfying is that!   Besides – dock and dandelion ‘pancake’ made in an old, rusty soup tin placed over an illicit bonfire is great fun for a group of children in a pre-24 hour TV, pre-gameboy world.

Chickweed, (Stellaria media), – well the chicks do love the chickweed – they really do.  Bitter cress, (Cardamine hirsuta) – a member of the mustard family – edible with a peppery flavour – perhaps I should add this to my next salad mix?

But creeping buttercup – here I draw the line – it’s tough, it’s rampant and it’s a real b****r to get out of a bed of strawberries.

Reading this week:  Scenes from a Smallholding by Chas Griffin (I tried reading the section entitled ‘Courgettes’ out loud to the OH but failed – I was laughing so much).



Hickory Dickory Dock….

house-mouseThe mouse ran up – well the side of the potting bench… and then under the tray covers and then ….


Wipe out. Sweet peas, (a classic), beetroot, courgette & squash, and I suspect, my recent sowing of asparagus.  Not so keen on the bean seed though he/she had a good rummage through.  I’m gutted to say the least.  Most I can re-sow.  I’ll have to buy in some more asparagus seed, though I have spotted some crowns for sale at a very reasonable price.    Lesson learnt.  I’ve brought the unaffected trays into the house, which, to the best of my knowledge, is a mouse free zone. As I haven’t clocked  the visitor I don’t know if the perpetrator is a field or house mouse.

Usually cramming a clear plastic seed lid on top of the trays deters mouse raids but I suspect the combo of using loo rolls and having the labels a little proud left sufficient space – a pencil width is all that’s required, allegedly.  Thankfully the sweet corn was missed – perhaps the mouse was too stuffed to make an inroad.

Ah well…




I’ve never seen Star Wars …..

Well I have actually, but only the first 3, which are in fact 4,5 & 6 but not the later ones, which are 1,2 and 3, though I’ve seen bits of them – but not the whole – because they are rubbish…

but I digress.  The title is a reference to things I’ve never done…. until now.

Drum roll.

DSC_0488I’ve grown snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris).  2 to be precise.  It’s hard to believe that this striking chequered flower is a British native – but it is!  I’ve always struggled to grow these, ( I suspect I haven’t had an area that kept damp enough over the summer),  but flushed with success I might try a bag of fritillary bulbs this autumn – though I have a way to go to rival the wet meadows at Iffley, Oxfordshire.

Whilst we are on the subject of firsts…… this will be the first year we can cut asparagus.  It’s quite easy to grow from seed but the crowns need space and a permanent site and then it is 3 years before the first spears can be cut.  We have a short row coming through which will give us a few – okay one – serving but I have also sown some trays of Connover’s Colossal.  This is an old variety, (1800s), that also has the RHS AGM.  Hopefully worth the time.  I’ll report back in 3 years!

In the meantime I shall enjoy the spring flowers…….

DSC_0487DSC_0489Reading this week: A Year in the Life of an English Meadow by Andy Garnett & Polly DevlinDSC_0486


Move on Up…

Oh my – I’ve gone and done it.  Said goodbye to the 43+ hour working week and the 7+ hour weekly drive back and forth.

DSC_0482So I thought, better get on with the growing stuff whilst looking for a part-time job.  Next stop the potting bench.  Yes, that essential piece of kit that I’ve been chucking useful things on top of – like loo roll inners (great for sowing anything that needs a good root run – peas and beans for example), and potato bags – or in reality, bags that could be used for storing spuds.

Except someone got there first.  I’ve been evicted.  Nice nest job though – 5 little speckled eggs, mum hunkering down, and me creeping past to get to the tools hanging along the wall.   I couldn’t get close enough to id mum – not a robin because the eggs would be blue.   Of course if I had kept my Observer Book of Bird Eggs I’d be in the know.  Still, a welcome guest.  Not so much movin’ up as movin’ in.

czar compressedI’m watching the sweep of blossom through the orchard.  The native species of Prunus in the hedgerow burst back in March; now our cultivated plums, mirabelles, and gages are in bloom.  To the left is Czar, a no nonsense, easy to grow, plum.  Other Prunus species – the peach (Peregrine), nectarine (Lord Napier), almond & apricot (Golden Glow), also are in bloom – these have or will be planted, (sorry marooned nectarine and almond), along the back of the dutch barn.  Hopefully the  south-facing aspect and reflected heat from the metal walls will increase the DSC_0490chance of a crop.

Though it’s not a complete blanket of Prunus blossom – the cherries haven’t yet come into flower.They have been pipped at the post by the Pears, (genus Pyrus).

So we have birds, and bees, (successfully overwintered), and blossom.



Reading this week:  Wild Flowers: Nature’s Own to Garden Grown by Carol Klein