Friday, October 14, 2011

What have we been doing in the garden?

OK, we're rubbish. 5 months and no posts...not really good blogging is it?

First off, the excuses. I spent most of May travelling in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, waving my camera at unwilling birds. We have both been very busy with work all summer, so only had time to try to keep the garden in a holding pattern - watering and doing some weeding when possible.

April and May were dry months here in East Anglia. Very dry. Despite keeping on top of the daily watering, the tomatoes didn't seem to like the conditions in the Greenhouse and although we got loads of fruit, it was all fairly tough skinned. I ended up making ketchup which should be ready to try in a couple of weeks :)

Otherwise the greenhouse did well - loads of peppers and chillis (although my attempt at air drying the fruit failed...I'll use the oven next time). We had mixed results with the cucumbers and melons - good early crops but struggled to keep them happy as summer went on.

We invested £50 in seeds, bulbs and annual plugs for the main scar beds and experimented at how taller plants would handle the wind...and were pleasantly surprised. The random mix of colour and planting worked well and we will probably keep a similar theme in the final beds here.

We also now have chickens - 5 young bantams that may start laying soon...

I plan to post more details of the past couple of months work later on.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Quick bird update - 60 species

Its all happening here in the village - there was a Wryneck feeding in a garden a few hundred yards down the road today and we had a Hobby race through the garden!

This brings us to 60 species recorded from the garden!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Asparagus and more

We have had a busy couple of weekends since I last posted - mainly constructing and moving stuff. Maybe we'll get to the planting and enjoying stage sometime...

Work in progress: Asparagus beds, greenhouse, chicken house and compost bins
Firstly, all 10 Asparagus crowns have produced at least one spear...which is a relief! Hopefully either our neighbour will clip the wings on her 5 chickens or we will seal the back hedge - either way I can remove the temporary fence from around the Asparagus beds.

Asparagus spear
We have concentrated on the area behind the greenhouse that will become the home for our chickens. The area will be enclosed on 2 sides by chicken wire fence, the 3rd side by the back of the greenhouse and the remaining side is 3 meters of picket fence and the compost bins.
3 compost bins and a leaf bin
After seeing the price of decent wooden bins with opening fronts (about £100 each), I visited my local timber merchant (Thaxters of Holt - excellent service and prices) and bought about £80 of wood. 8 hours of sawing and screwing later, I had three bins built. And a matching leaf bin on the side. Total cost: less than £100

Old gate
We decided to give the chicken area a grand entrance, so recycled the gate from the front of the house (removed to make the drive entrance a sensible width).

I planted another permanent resident - an Himalayan Birch 'Grayswood Ghost'. This should develop wonderful smooth, white bark.

Himalayan Birch 'Grayswood Ghost'
It looks a little lost at the moment but the garden should grow around it as it grows.

Finally we moved the old summerhouse to a temporary position to allow the new boundary fence to be constructed...which has gone well too. I'll write more about that project another time.
Tired, old summerhouse

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sussex Gardens: Free plant labels

Roz recently posted a great recycling idea over on Sussex Gardens: Free plant labels: "A cheap and easy way to label plants and seedlings is by re-using plastic food containers like margerine tubs or milk bottles. Just wash out...". Click through to read the full post.

Free plants

The postman has just arrived with our 42 free Petunias from the February issue of Gardeners World. Looks like I will be potting those on this evening!

Tiny petunias!

If you missed the free offer, Thompson and Morgan offer a similar colour mix - click here to see it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New lunchtime visitors

I was about to nip out for half hour in the garden at lunch when I noticed an odd grey lump by our new asparagus beds...quick look with the bins and I saw there were two Red-legged Partridges sat there!

Red-legged Partridges stood by our wheelbarrow
Not my finest moment of avian photography but I wanted to show the wheelbarrow in the frame.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Asparagus planted

Originally we planned to prune the back hedge and put up a chicken-proof fence...but the delivery of a box containing 10 Asparagus crowns on Saturday lunchtime soon changed the plan. It was time to get building and digging.

Firstly, we needed to determine where the edge of the veggie beds were going to start. This is determined by a gatepost and gate which will be the entrance to the chicken area. So time to dig a deep hole for the post and praise the light soil we have - hole digging is easy :)

With the gatepost in place, we could then put in the two 3.6m sleepers to make a retaining wall (the garden slopes slightly and I wanted the beds to all be level). Moving the 3.6m sleepers from the drive to the bottom of the garden was not fun - they are very, very heavy! We did find that you could put the sleeper on our 4-wheel garden cart by removing the sides and placing timber blocks on the bottom to avoid catching the small lip. It made steering awkward but was a lot easier than carrying the sleeper the whole way (which we did with the first two).

We then levelled the area for the paths and two narrower beds and dug over the area. Twice. It was meant to be a proper double-dig but the awkward way we are doing this - constrained by time and the temporary tree housing - meant that we made hard work of digging to a suitable depth.

Ness had to leave at Sunday lunchtime for a business trip, so before she left we carried the four 2.4m sleepers, that make up the long sides of the beds, into place. I then worked to finish off. My biggest mistake was to build the bed sides before digging in compost and leaf mould to the two beds. This made forking over the narrow bed quite awkward. Time was marching on and the clouds were darkening, threatening rain.

To plant the first bed, I dug the 30cm wide, 20cm deep trench and realised that I should have just emptied the soil into a wheelbarrow as the remainder of the 60cm wide bed could not hold that amount of soil. Anyway, I made the best of it, forking over the bottom of the trench (which was already fairly open) and building a narrow mound to trail the roots over. The five crowns fitted perfectly with 40cm spacing and I sieved soil back into the trench to cover the crowns with about 5cm soil.

One bed done, another to go but no time left. the remaining five crowns went into a tray of damp compost and I just managed to clear up our tools before the heavens opened. Hopefully half-hour at lunchtime tomorrow should get the other crowns planted and I'll add pictures then too.

We also added 2 species to the garden list this week - Lesser Redpoll on the niger seed(!) and a male Blackcap has been singing and showing occasionally in the bottom hedge.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend of work

A mixed weekend. We had planned/hoped to get the new fence in and hedge planted but other stuff meant that we couldn't do this. I took the decision at lunchtime on Saturday to heel-in the 250 tree whips rather than risk leaving them for another week in their packaging. The constant rain on Saturday made for a miserable day digging and preparing the 'hedge strip'.
Mixed trees heeled in and our neighbour's Cockerel 
I finally finished the trench digging, bundle separating and careful trench refilling at lunchtime today - yes it took a day to heel-in all the trees! A frustrating job as it is work that shouldn't have been needed...and the 100 Hawthorns are making preparing the Asparagus beds difficult. I had to use a third of the veg bed area as it was already stripped of turf.
100 Hawthorn and 20 Hazel

Preparing the veggie area
Oh well. Better the wasted time than have the trees die.

Ness did very well - getting all the patio pots cleaned with plants pruned, tidied and top-dressed. They all look excellent - can't wait for everything to get growing! She also got 25 tumbling Strawberries planted into a 3-tier planter and 3 tall pots.

I found time to add a second slimline water butt to the greenhouse - it is external and collecting from the other gutter. Talking of water collection - the large butt on the garage half filled with the rain yesterday!
Another water butt!
The other good job was sowing seeds on Saturday evening. I made the second sowing of Cucumber, hopefully this will take as the first hasn't germinated :(  I also sowed the second crop of Sweet Peppers, some sweet peas, Tumbling Tom tomatoes and Giant Russian Sunflowers.


I shouldn't be left on my own.

While Mark was away working I had the task to buy some seeds, which I duly did. However, I also bought 25 trailing strawberry plants. These weren't in plan at all, but they ended up in my basket and on our doorstep a couple of weeks later...... much to Mark's surprise!

So this weekend I didn't do what I was supposed to be doing and planted the babies up. They look quite happy and I am looking forward to some yummy strawbereis and cream. However I think we may have a surplus so jam making here I come!

Friday, March 25, 2011

50 bird species in the garden

Today was a little bit of a landmark as we added our 50th species seen from the garden - Oystercatcher. It flew over calling which caused a mild panic when I could hear but not see it!

There is also a Chiffchaff singing from the oaks opposite but I can't see it for toffee. This and the Oyk brings the total number of species recorded up to 52.

Not bad in less than 3 months.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Water butts!

With a big garden and grand plans for lots of plants and veg, we are going to need a lot of water. Time to get our  drainpipes working on saving water and installing some water butts.

After looking around the interwebs, I decided on getting a single Harcostar 227 litre and 2 Harcostar 100 litre Space Sava water butts for the Greenhouse. I had a weak moment and bought proper Harcostar stands for the butts rather than stack some bricks. We had a 20% discount code from our Gardeners World magazine subscription, so I purchased the butts from Crocus.

First one was easy enough - a previous owner had fitted a diversion thingie on the garage downpipe so all I needed to do was attach a hose to the nice new water butt. I bought a kit that connected two water butts together, cut the hose in half and attached it to the downpipe.

Garage water but
The second was part of the greenhouse project - the water butt is actually inside the greenhouse so that we have water stored at the same temperature as the soil and plants. I took the other half of the water butt connection kit, drilled and cut a hole in a polycarbonate panel, pushed the hose through and connected it to a standard, plastic greenhouse gutter kit. I had to cut the downpipe but it was a perfect fit with the connection hose!

Modified gutter kit and hose

Water butt in the greenhouse

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The renovated greenhouse

The renovated greenhouse
At last, it is pretty much complete!

It took a lot longer than I expected to aluminium tape the tops and tape & clip the bottoms of each of the polycarbonate panels. A very slow and finger numbing process. This also meant each of the 12 louvre panels took as long to prepare as the large, full size panels!

I have also built the staging - two 4 foot sections, one with a tray top, one with rungs. A space-saving water butt sits in one corner near the door...just need to work out a way to get rainwater into it :)

Final job will be fitting the automatic vent-openers to the louvres and roof-vents, something for the longer spring evenings.

As a reminder, here are the before and after images. I am quite chuffed with the result!



Sunday, February 27, 2011

More on the greenhouse

Preparation finished
After spending time clearing and cleaning the old greenhouse, we added weed suppressing membrane and barrowed a ton and a half of pea shingle down to the bottom of the garden to create a good base.

I also lifted four 2 foot square, concrete (and very heavy) slabs from the path alongside our front drive to make a reasonable path down the centre of the greenhouse. It also meant I got to play with the pressure washer to clean them up :)

We had enough shingle to create a path behind the greenhouse too, so this will provide a good sheltered spot for plants in temporary pots and stuff.

Somebody in the past had the fore-thought to run water down to the greenhouse, and against all odds the tap still works! I just need to attach it to a decent post...

With all the polycarbonate glazing, new large louvres and staging sitting in the garage, I just need to put it all together.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The greenhouse

Our wreck of a greenhouse
One of the exciting things in the new garden is the existing, good sized greenhouse - 12' x 8'.
However, it needs a little bit of TLC...despite its dilapidated appearance, the frame is in excellent condition and anchored properly.

Initially we planned to remove the broken glazing and attempt to clean the remaining panes in place but after some experimentation and doing a little research, we decided to remove all the glass, clean the frame and re-glaze with 4mm polycarbonate.

Removing the glazing
Once the glazing was removed, it was time to clear the weeds from the ground. Like the rest of the garden, ground elder and bind weed are prevalent with a supporting cast of nettles and dock. We decided that growing in pots would be the best course of action, so covered the floor with a weed suppressing membrane and ordered a lot of pea-shingle to keep it covered.
Cleared and cleaned
I'll post more as we do it!