Monday, 14 April 2014

A Full Greenhouse

We didn't do anything much in the garden over the weekend other than walk round it, as Philip, Rachel and baby Luke were visiting. It must be said that walking round it was rather nice, as it's an opportunity to ignore the weedy patches, and the not-doing-anything-yet herbaceous perennials, and enjoy the daffodils in full glory, the swelling buds on trees, and the daily lengthening of rhubarb stems.

After they'd set off home, though, we sowed a number of seeds (marigolds, stipa, pennisetum, lupins, verbena, cucomelon, I think), and I pottered briefly in the greenhouse. This is our first spring with a greenhouse, and the young plants we've overwintered in it are much further on than those in open ground. The extra warmth and protection are fantastic. It's full, inevitably. Many of the plants in it are going to be forced out soon: they're hardy plants, that didn't need the greenhouse (even un-heated, it's got no lower than -1°C, and mostly been frost free), but have clearly benefitted. However, with a steady train of seedlings germinating inside, they older plants will need to make way for new plants, and eventually even these will get planted out, to be replaced with tender veg. We've got germinated tomatoes, chillis, sweet peppers, and aubergines, which will all occupy the glasshouse for the summer.

For now, though, it's almost all perennials, and about a hundred sweet peas.

Greenhouse full of young plants, grown on over the winter, and ready to plant out soon (© Ian 2014)

 There are a lot of small lavenders (on the right), which were intended for the edges of the herb garden. We've been doing a bit of a think about this: further work is probably off the cards until the autumn, as anything we do will be trampled by wall insulation this summer. The lavender will have to be planted out in a temporary location. On the far bench are some of the sweet peas, the tulbaghia and agapanthus from Tatton Park, a couple of dozen deschampsia from seed last year, and in the back left the cut-off rootstocks from grafting. These have come into leaf, and look like they've rooted, which is marvellous news. They'll go into a nursery bed for future grafting. On the top shelves on the right are a load of vegetable seedlings: brassicas, beetroot, spinach, chard. There are also some perennials: six herbaceous potentillas, for example. On the left are ungerminated seeds (which don't need so much light), and other perennials: half a dozen astilbes, some geraniums, some clivia (technically not hardy, but they've done fine), and some hostas that are in pots waiting for a bog garden to be built. And, also, a tray of hosta seedlings from last year, which are just coming out for their first 'adult' year.

One-year-old hostas (© Ian 2014)

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


In between bits and pieces (garage; lunch; barber), I've managed to spend a few hours in the garden. Mowing the lawn (third time this year) is consistently taking about 75 minutes, which is good: it used to take at least a couple of hours, which was too long to get round to as often as it needed. An hour or so, however, can be squeezed into an evening, if the weather cooperates.

A lot of the rest of the time was spent on my knees, weeding the quince bed and the copse bed. I made a frankly half-hearted attempt at the sweet-pea bed, and the septic tank/pond bed, but they defeated me. The quince bed's not been dealt with since autumn, and generated about three trugs of bittercress, dandelions, and invading grass, and (fortunately, and with great care), no decapitated spring bulbs. They're all looking much neater, and the quince bed will look better still in a couple of weeks, when we can put down the mulch we put aside for it.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Orchard Enlargement

We've already spent two days hard at work, clearing blackthorn from the back of the orchard and burning it, but the progress we made was largely invisible from the house, as we were working from the back (top) of the bank of blackthorn, effectively hollowing it out. Yesterday, though, we finished the job, and the whole cleared area became visible in one day. It's a space probably ten metres deep, and fifteen wide, and means that the established apple tree in the back left, and the chestnut we planted on that side in February, are both now 'in' the orchard, rather than feeling separate. The James Grieve apple, and the other established apple that were on the back edge of the orchard now have space behind them or the left of them (respectively). We haven't yet gone as far right as the other chestnut: this will create less additional space, but we'll try to do so in the autumn.

The big advantage is that this has cleared the space that one day will hold the plum arch, which will be the feature exit from the back of the orchard into the clearings and woodland above. We've marked our intended position for it with a pair of fence posts, which—now they're visible—will let us assess whether it's in the right place. Pleasingly, it's directly above the hole in the dry stone wall that I'm rebuilding (slowly), which in turn is directly opposite the old door in the dining room (long (decades) since replaced with a window).

We were also able to pop out this morning to plant the second mulberry, King James/Chelsea, which has been in a pot since autumn, waiting to go in the ground. The weather also held just long enough to plant three more hellebores in the copse bed, three primulas in the games lawn's septic tank bed, a sedum 'Thundercloud' in the long border, and a handful of thymes and sedums in the wall in the front garden.

Oh; a note to myself: we saw a rather attractive hydrangea, 'Zorro', which might one day have a place.

Sunday, 30 March 2014


Three weeks ago, we started clearing the swathe of blackthorn (sloe bush) that forms the back of the orchard. It's about 30' thick, in places, in front of a number of quite old and established trees. They're quite attractive, and the blackthorn's rather scrubby, dark, unproductive, and thorny. We've long intended to clear them, and increase the size of the orchard (our 'Chelsea' mulberry is waiting in its pot until we've cleared its space), as well as expose the more attractive treeline. There'll probably be some spaces, up against the trees, where we can plant small trees or shrubs, to get a transition from the more open orchard into the woodland.

First, though, the blackthorn needs to come down. We light a bonfire on the same spot as before, and I dragged brush to it while Liz worked on cutting down and disentangling the blackthorn. We're now probably two-thirds of the way through it, and progress is now visible from the orchard side of the bank: last time we worked from above, and were hollowing out of the stand. This time we broke through, and the chestnut that was hidden in a bight in the blackthorn has now been linked to the orchard properly. The solitary established apple tree that was separated from the others by blackthorn is now connected to the rest, too.

The fire was a bit tricky to get burning properly, but once it was going, a real depth of charcoal built up, and was so hot that anything thrown on rapidly ignited. We came in at about half-six, scratched and weary, but the mound of embers was still glowing brightly in the dark, when I went to check on it four hours later.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

New Beds

Last time we were out in the garden (ten days ago: David and Ann were with us for the weekend, which was a relaxing couple of days filled with food, and no work), I dug a new bed above the beech bench, and we planted a row of lavenders around its edge. Today, it was the turn of the other side, and we now have a matching bed below the bench (between it and the steps down to the wood shelter and kitchen garden). While I dug it over, Liz cleared a heap of shredding that's been accumulating, and we were, as ever, amazed at how small the resulting pile of chipped stuff is.

Having removed a load of stones (as normal), the remaining ground is actually rather nice soil: we planted a row of lavender around it, again, and then filled the space in both beds with other things that were taking up space in the greenhouse: a few dozen deschampsia grasses (D. cespitosa), some sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis), and some Jacob's ladder (Polemonium): all grown from RHS seed last year.

At the left end of the bed, there's a space towards the wall where we took down the conifer a couple of years ago, which was obscured by the aforementioned shredding heap. This was the destination of the Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) which arrived last December, and has remained in its pot over the winter. The space now cleared, we've been able to plant that out, and hopefully it'll add some year-round foliage interest to that corner.

Part of the reason for preparing and planting these beds was to free up small pots and space in the greenhouse. That achieved, we spent the last hour of the day potting up a load of sweet peas (again, no 'Apple Blossom' have germinated: they're on the black-list, now), chilli and sweet peppers, and aubergines. In turn, that meant space in the propagators, so we've also sown more cosmos (an orange mix), tiger tomato seeds collected last year, anise, and a few other ornamentals. Even with the greenhouse, we're still going to wind up with lots of pots on the windowsills: but at least they'll be gone by May this time, and the tender veg (tomatoes, peppers, and aubergines) won't be inside, but out in the greenhouse.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


A fair bit of the weekend's been spent dealing with the 6m3 of mulch that arrived on Thursday. After putting a good layer on the vegetable garden then, on Saturday we worked along the fruit beds, giving the currants and berries a thick mat. We spared a bit for the rhubarb, too, which I've already spread several trugs of compost onto, but more is definitely better for this hungry perennial. I think we'll take our first harvest next weekend: the oldest Timperley Early is doing well (and is earliest!).

The fruit beds will get a weed-suppressing layer of cardboard, and then a topping of chippings, when we next have some: this reduces the weeding so much that it only needs an annual blitz (my job yesterday), which is much better.

We've also gone along the fruit trees on the hillside (excluding the apple walk, and the pear 'Hessle', as they're too small to need it), putting a trug full of mulch under each one's anti-weed membrane. The ornamental plums are on the verge of coming into leaf and flowering.

The heuchera/quince bed is a little too full of rather dainty spring bulbs to want to mulch it (should have done so in January or February!), so we've filled two Dalek-style composters with mulch, on a nearby path, ready to spread once the bulbs die back. Lesson learnt for 2015.

That still left us with a good heap of mulch, so the last job today was spreading twenty-odd trugs over the long border. This bank is reasonably fertile, having had cotoneaster leaves dropping on it annually for twenty years, but it could still do with building up. Liz had been weeding the bank over Thursday, Saturday, and today, so the mulch has gone (as it should) straight onto clear ground, and it looks really good.

While she weeded, I've tidied the over-grown grass in the wild-er bit near the flowering currant and behind the copse bed. I should, really, have strimmed this in late autumn, as it's now full of daffodils, which obviously I don't want to damage. This made it a manual job, which is more tedious, but there you go.

Last short job yesterday was digging an exploratory trench to work out the fate of the land drain we uncovered when preparing the bed for the sweetpeas last spring. We've gone about two metres up-hill, on the other side of the path (which I didn't want to disturb just yet), and found two breaks in the pipe -- but no herringbone joint yet. I'm still hoping that we'll find some: there's no chance it's draining the whole section of garden unless there's either herringbone drains running off from it, or a second drain (hitherto undiscovered) further along. That said, the broken sections, which have filled with organic debris, would explain why they're not working. It's going to take a bit more work to get to the bottom of it all.

This afternoon, my digging was on the opposite side of the garden, as I was preparing what will become beds in front/beside the beech bench. I've cleared the turf from both, but only dug over the bed above the bench (very stony and laborious). The soil's quite nice, actually, once the stones are prised out. Fortunately, one bed was enough to plant 28 lavenders out, as a border, which has freed up enough 2½–3" pots to pot up the 'Alicanta' tomato seedlings that have been outgrowing their communal pots.

Astonishingly, it actually feels like we're more-or-less on track, without too many specific or substantial jobs that should have been done but which we've not got round to. As for actually managing to mulch 'on schedule'... I'm sure it shan't last.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


For my birthday, Liz gave me a 'voucher' for an order of snowdrops, leaving it to me to decide on exactly what I wanted. Accordingly, a week or two ago, I ordered a thousand single snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), and five hundred doubles (G. n. 'Flora Plena'), which arrived on Tuesday. They're from a nursery in Wisbech, outside Cambridge: their season is, of course, a bit advanced on ours, so although our snowdrops are still in flower, theirs have gone over. The flowers are turning into seedheads, but the leaves will remain for a few weeks more, building storage carbohydrate levels in the bulb, ready for next year. The lifting, sorting, and shipping will, inevitably, stress the plants rather badly, but it's arguably the best way to buy them. The packs of bulbs you find in the garden centre in the autumn don't tend to have received the best storage, having been lifted and graded, packed into plastic bags, and then distributed to shops, where they might then spend some time in the too-warm interior of the garden centre. By the time they're bought, and finally returned to the soil, they're all too often dry and dead, or at least badly stressed, and can take years to establish.

The snowdrops we planted like this, in a pot in our old garden, took several years before they flowered at all—in fact, I think it was only after their second year that we were even sure they were growing at all. Fortunately, they now grace our front garden, under the acer there.

Snowdrops in the front garden (© Ian 2014)

If you're a galanthophile, and are obtaining a rarer, sought-after form, then buying them in pots in the autumn is probably the absolute best. However, only the fancy varieties are really available like this—the ones that sell at several pounds per bulb. We need spring bulbs by the hundred, if not the thousand: we've probably planted getting on for three thousand in this garden—daffodils, scilla, puschkinia, crocuses, fritillaries, in the main—and I reckon we need at least twice as many again. Then there's the hillside, which will need its own several-thousand-bulb planting.

There's no way we can spend several pounds per bulb, and I don't think you need to, to enjoy the sight of a drift of snowdrops. Additionally, many of the collectors' forms are doubles, which aren't as good for insects, although they are pretty. So plenty of common singles, and a good chunk of the basic double, is the way we've gone.

They're classic woodland plants, completing their flowering and growth in a quick cycle as soon as possible in late winter, and before deciduous trees and shrubs come into leaf, reducing light levels. Although I'd be just as happy scattering them throughout the garden, we've started, therefore, by planting about 350 of the doubles in the copse bed of the garden, were they'll rub shoulders with crocuses, witch-hazel, and dogwoods. Some more (the rest of the doubles) have gone along either side of the willow tunnel over the septic tank. We then planted about 150 singles in the quince bed, along with ten G. plicatus 'Warham', which were a free gift (quite generously, as they appear to retail at £4 per bulb...), before taking the rest of the tray up to the birch clearing on the hillside. We planted a load of Midwinter Fire dogwoods up there early in December, and the snowdrops have gone around and amongst these and the eponymous stand of silver birches. At the moment, these all look a lot like little tufts of grass, but each is really a dozen or so deep-planted bulbs. Although, no doubt, we'll lose some of them, hopefully within a year, or two, there'll be plenty of flowers.

Planting the snowdrops took us up to lunch time, having got an early start and made the most of the cooler misty morning (hot sunny weather wouldn't be good for the bare-rooted bulbs). About the same time, a delivery of mulch (composted 'forestry products' (bark, I reckon) and manure (horse, by my reckoning), from the ever-reliable Tommy Topsoil) arrived, and was tipped onto the driveway. This afternoon we moved about a quarter/a third of this to fill up the vegetable beds. More will go around the fruit trees on the hillside at the weekend, and the rest will go on flower beds. The fruit beds might get compost, instead, and we plan to repeat the approach of last year, putting down compost, then cardboard, then chippings. The weeding in these beds was then negligible all year, which was much better—and I don't think it's a coincidence that we 
had no sign of sawfly (technically birch sawfly, in previous years), as the larvae pupate underground, and I think the mulch might stop them emerging, reducing populations.

Lastly, while Liz got started on the year's weeding (pond end of the long border), I mowed the lawn for the first time. Since reducing the mowing to around the quince/sweetpea bed, the slope at the foot of the drive, round the pond, and the games lawn, it's a much more manageable job, taking about an hour this time. No doubt it'll look a bit yellowed (and I'll have missed a few strips), but it already looks neater.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Noble Potatoes

Our seed potatoes arrived today. This year, we've ordered a collection that are all, in some way, noble, partly for fun, partly because they composed a sensible group.
  • British Queen, a second early. I don't know whether it's for a particular British Queen, but note that it was bred in 1894, when Victoria was on the throne.
  • Red Duke of York, a red sport of Duke of York, and a first early. I assume it was named after Richard, Duke of York (father of Edward IV and Richard III (not, himself, ever Duke of York, as that creation of the title reverted to the crown with Edward IV's accession), and not one of the later creations of the title.
  • Lady Christl, a first early which we've grown each of the last three years. It yields well and early, is tasty, and stores surprisingly well for a first early (right through to spring). Sadly, Lady Christl doesn't appear to be named for anyone.
  • International Kidney, a second early. Grown on Jersey, under trademark, as Royal Jersey. Close enough?
  • Lady Balfour, an early maincrop named after the founder of the Soil Association. (She was 'Lady' Balfour as a courtesy title, her father being the second Earl of Balfour.)
We've gone for earlier varieties, without a late maincrop (Druid was unavailable, sadly), in the hope that it'll avoid wireworm or blight trouble. The seed tubers are now in the spare room, chitting, ready to plant out in a month or so.

Also this evening, we've sown a few ornamental seeds from the RHS's seed scheme, as well as beetroot and swiss chard.

Sunday, 9 March 2014


Today's been a phenomenally nice day, with temperatures around 17°C, and bright sun. Yesterday was cooler, and a bit cloudier, which made it an ideal day for chopping a load of firewood (sticky tricky pine, but never mind).

The warmth and bright sun today's meant that there are probably a dozen daffodils pretty much out, where yesterday there were three. The crocuses enjoyed it, too, and I'm pretty sure a bee flew past me (too fast to be sure) this afternoon.

The dwarf irises in the long border, and around the pond, are out, and beautiful.

Dwarf iris (© Ian 2014)

When the acer in the front garden was first planted, in a large pot in our last garden, we underplanted it with snowdrops. They never came to much, but after we planted the acer in our new front garden (before starting this blog: I think it was September 2009), they've started to come up, and the last couple of years have given us a decent show.

Snowdrops under the acer (© Ian 2014) 

I've actually got a big consignment of snowdrops on order—1000 common singles (Galanthus nivalis) and 500 doubles (G. n. 'Flora Pleno')—which will hopefully arrive, in the green, soon, and can go out, on hillside and in garden.

Which brings us to today's efforts. First thing was finishing the winter pruning, by working on the fruit bushes. The blackcurrants, gooseberries, and red/whitecurrants all needed pruning, and we also removed some old wood on the blueberries, which are still proving troublesome. The two oldest ('Grover' and something unknown) were several years old when planted in 2010, and the other three are now four years old—and still not very large (to say the least). These three have definitely grown better over the last year (hopefully the good mulching last spring and resultant weed-free year has got them going), at least. However, we decided that we had to take out some old wood on the oldest pair, as ageing stems is possibly the cause of their much-reduced yield.

Once we'd finished in the fruit beds, we went up onto the hillside, to start work on clearing the blackthorn at the back of the orchard. This is partly to increase the size of the orchard, as the two sweet chestnuts are nestled into clearings in the blackthorn, and the space for the second mulberry (which, I'm astonished to realise, I never mentioned) is currently somewhere inside the blackthorn shown below.

Orchard, with back boundary of blackthorn (© Ian 2014) 

The blackthorn (which have never produced loads of sloes, sadly) lies in front of a line of trees (hawthorn, elder, and holly, primarily) which would make a better boundary, probably underplanted with hazel, beech, and bulbs. We're working on it from above, so it looks much the same today as it does in these photos, but we've actually hollowed out the undergrowth quite effectively. It's probably still a couple of days' work, but it's a good start. As Liz cleared, I was burning the blackthorn on a bonfire in the upper clearing (a hot, fast burning bonfire, I must note: no smoky, smouldering eyesore), as blackthorn's a nightmare to chip.

The entrance to the clearing, through, hopefully, arch-trained plums, will be roughly central in the photo below. You can just make out the sweet chestnut's stake on the far right; the other is hidden on the left. The mulberry will probably go behind and left of the established apple tree just in front of the blackthorn (for now). So; the mulberry. For several years, our local garden centre has sent a voucher around early November, which I've managed to use for a cheap fruit tree: a Broadview walnut in 2012, and a Serbian Gold quince in 2011. Last November, they had a 'Chelsea' mulberry (also known as 'King James', as it comes from a plant grown at Chelsea Physic Park as part of King James IV's misguided silk industry initiative), which we thought would make a good partner to the Jerusalem mulberry planted nearer the front of the orchard. And with 50% off, it was rather a good deal. It's had to remain in its pot, unfortunately, as we've not finished clearing its space, but fortunately, as it's container grown, it should be fine for a little longer: there's not the rush to get it in the ground, unlike bare-root, field-grown trees.

The orchard, looking up at the doomed blackthorn bank (© Ian 2014)

Sunday, 2 March 2014


After spending yesterday chopping a load of firewood, today was more pleasantly spent doing a load of winter pruning. The clematis growing on the arbour (Alba Plena) need cutting back to 18" in March, for instance, and the roses all need tidying. A lot of the spring bulbs are showing signs of growth, and the flowering currants are just in bloom. By next weekend, the daffodils should be coming out.

The biggest winter pruning job is that of the apples. The established apple trees all needed a tidy-up, just as they did last year. One more year, and they should all be reasonably organized: we've spread the wok over a few years, to avoid removing too much in one go. Several of the new, standard-trained apples needed laterals trimming, although most still haven't reached their 1.8m height, at which they get topped, and start forming the framework proper.

Most excitingly, we also cut all of the apple walk apples down to height. They've all been cut to about 30cm, where we want the first horizontal tier of the espaliers to fall. In two cases, Cat's Head and Grandpa Buxton,  I actually cut them off at 45cm above this, at the height of the second tier, and have nicked above an appropriately placed bud to form the bottom tier. I've taken this approach as I wasn't absolutely sure that these hadn't been double worked, as there was a wound and new leader trained in above where the bottom espalier will be, and I didn't want to cut off all the Cat's Head/Grandpa Buxton, and leave an unknown interstem.

This left me with a bundle of eighteen sticks of various apples...and a reluctance to throw them away. So, instead, I've grafted them all onto the established apple trees. If they take, they're a back-up for the apple walk trees, and I can use them to graft new (possibly step-over) trees next winter. If they don't, I've not lost anything (well, apart from a couple of hours work).

Saturday, 22 February 2014


On Thursday, my order of grafting material arrived from the National Fruit Collection, in Brogdale. I'd ordered sticks of seven fruit varieties: two apples, Crimson Superb, and Craggy's Seedling; a pear, Hessle; two medlars, Dutch and Royal; and two quinces, Ivan and Vranja. The rootstocks arrived (MM106 for the apples; Quince A for the rest) a little while ago, and were planted out a couple of weeks ago, to give them time to settle in.

Today, then, was grafting day. I've managed to get three scions out of all the sticks, apart from medlar Royal and quince Vranja, which only produced two. That means at least two spare Quince A rootstocks, which is no bad thing. I collected the cut off rootstock, and have put them into pots, to see if they take as hardwood cuttings (it's not the right time of year, but there you go). I used a tongue-and-whip grafts on them all, and wrapped the joins with parafilm.

The grafting scions, well packed and safely delivered (© Ian 2014)

They're all in the nursery bed, apart from a Crimson Superb and a Craggy's Seedling, which I grafted onto rotostocks that had been planted straight into the apple walk last weekend.

The apple walk, with the two spoil heaps of stone (© Ian 2014)

The approach to the apple walk, with pear 'Hessle' in front and right of the first arch: the hawthorn on the left will be replaced with another Hessle, in time (© Ian 2014)

A side view of the apple walk, in its temporary deer-cage (© Ian 2014)

The nursery bed, with the other grafted rootstocks (© Ian 2014)

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Beech Bench

When we ordered our bare-root hedging last year, we included a couple of dozen extra purple beech. They've been waiting, heeled in in the vegetable garden, waiting for us to be ready to plant them.

On the north-west edge of the garden, there's a large elder, and a large lilac with a holly growing through it. Between the two, there's a roughly 12' gap, in which a smaller lilac, and a potentilla sat. I have nothing against lilacs, other than that their season of beauty is relatively short, and somewhat unreliable. The potentilla has been a stalwart. However, neither really enhances the boundary, and it feels rather open (nothing in the sight line to the neighbour's big windows.

When we visited York Gate, we saw (though I didn't comment on it here) a bench that had a high beech 'hedge' grown behind and around its sides. It gave a sheltered spot, and formed quite a feature. We thought that the spot between the bigger two trees would be ideal for one, where a bench on the edge of the games lawn would be nicely combined with a feature visible from across the lawn, at the arched entrance to that 'room'.

Of course, this meant moving the lilac. The potentilla was easy, and has gone into the long border, where it's nicely filled a gap on the left end. The lilac was less simple, but eventually we managed to trench around it, cut under it, and drag it to the opposite side of the garden (on runners, which made it easier, if not easy). There, on the raised bank at the edge of the garden, between a silver birch and a sycamore, we dug it a new hole, and planted it in. At the same point, we've given it a good prune, as the shocked and reduced roots won't support as large a canopy: the smaller silhouette will also catch the wind less until its better anchored.

The lilac is now roughly above the blue hose reel, from this angle, in this photo from last year (© Ian 2013–14)

The space, those two out, looked perfect, thankfully, so we marked out a space for a 6' bench, and cleared a suitable border around it, into which we've planted 25 of the bare-root hedging plants. They look awfully twig-like at this moment, of course. Hopefully, though, the beech will grow quickly (it should), and in a few years, we'll have a pleasant, sheltered spot to sit.

Purple beech (left) and 'Golden Hornet' crab-apple (right) (© Ian 2013–14)

After doing this, we then dug the hole for the crab-apple, 'Golden Hornet', that was also waiting in the kitchen garden. This was rather easier than the hole for, say, the apple walk, and was quickly the right size. The apple's now planted (exactly the same mycorrhizal/stake/cage regime as before!), centrally on the games lawn (compensating for a planned border on the lower edge, that is), and is a good focus from the future bench.

The last job of the day was taking two branches down from one of the silver birches at the top of the colour wheel, which were damaged in the high winds of Wednesday. Tomorrow morning, we should be sowing a load of seeds: sweet peas, cineraria, tomatoes, chillies, aubergines; as well as potting up the All Year Round cauliflowers we sowed last month.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Apple Walk Planted

On Wednesday, our Yorkshire apples arrived, barerooted. They all came from an excellent (and relatively local) nursery in Pickering, called RV Roger, and are all young maiden trees, probably one or at most two years old from grafting:

  • Court Pendu Plat (Norman)
  • Joaneting (1600)
  • Cats Head (1620)
  • Ribston Pippin (1707)
  • Dog's Snout (1720)
  • Hunt House (1720)
  • Balsam (1750)
  • Greenup's Pippin (1750)
  • Acklam Russet (1768)
  • Hornsea Herring (1780)
  • Yorkshire Greening (1803)
  • Flower of the Town (1831)
  • Fillingham Pippin (1835)
  • Cockpit Improved (1850)
  • New Bess Pool (1850)
  • Winter Cockpit (1860)
  • Nancy Jackson (1875)
  • Sharleston Pippin (1888)
  • Yorkshire Aromatic (1945)
  • Grandpa Buxton (1990)
To these, we're adding Craggy's Seedling (I can't find a date for this, but guess around 1850), and Crimson Superb (similarly, but it's a sport of Laxton's Superb, bred 1897, so I'm putting it in the first half of the 20th Century, which is all the precision I need, as you can see). They're currently just MM106 rootstocks, as the graftwood will be arriving in a week or so.

We planted out almost all of these this morning, starting at the back left corner of the apple walk with Court Pendu Plat, and working through them chronologically, back right, then penultimate left, penultimate right, and so on. Pleasingly, this puts Cats Head (the biggest plant) next to Dog's Snout; and Cockpit Improved and Winter Cockpit adjacent. The bottom four on the left we've not planted, as we wanted to further increase the drainage, and re-assess the soil on Sunday.

They've all been planted with mycorrhizal fungi, and tied to their 2½" stake, next to their metal arch-foundation tube. I'll give them their establishing cut, at the height of the first 'tier', as part of the winter pruning in the next couple of weeks.

These trees planted, we also put the Hessle pear, and Marron de Lyon and Marigoule sweet chestnuts, which were part of the same order, in their prepared holes. Similar to the previous standard fruit trees, they're in decent planting pits, with more mycorrhizal fungi, a 2½" stake, and a 1.2m circumference, 6' height chicken wire cage, held in place with two 8' bamboos. (Sorry, terrible mix of units.)

Hessle, like the apples, is a Yorkshire native, coming from an eponymous village in the East Riding, near Kingston upon Hull. Sadly, there don't appear to be any Yorkshire-bred chestnuts (not terribly surprising, really), so we have the two French varieties that seemed best. I'm sure they'll be lovely.

Sunday, 9 February 2014


The MM106 apple and Quince A rootstocks arrived during the week, and have been heeled into a bucket of compost, waiting to be planted out. That was the first order of the day, so all but two apples are now safely planted in the nursery beds we dug on the hillside. We've put up the chickenwire cage that will protect all three beds from deer, and the rootstocks should now have a couple of weeks to settle in before we graft onto them.

Yesterday afternoon, we then drove the 22 tubes that will support the apple walk arches into the ground. These are 5/8" steel tubes, with the underground section cold-galvanized, and bitumen painted, for corrosion protection. They extend about 90cm above ground, and the rebar arches will slot into them in a few weeks. Alongside are the support stakes, that will ensure that the rootstocks don't suffer windrock while they establish.

Steel tubes, zinc-painted and ready for bituminous paint over-coat ( Ian 2014)
Having got these carefully positioned, we then dug the two planting holes for our sweet chestnuts, which are on the same order as the twenty apples and one pear (the last two apples for the walk are amongst the grafting set). This was astonishingly easy: we each went to one hole, planning to get started then reconvene once we knew how difficult they were going to be—and had the holes dug in a few minutes. Working in the very stony (historically terraced) corner with the apple walk has clearly given us a different perspective. The holes dug, I drove an 8' stake for each; this has the advantage of being able to see the position from the house, to check that they seem right.

The two trenches of the apple walk then needed refilling, so we poured in seven bags of sand, to help drainage, and eight trugs of compost, before scraping the spoil heaps back into the trenches. Even with the additions, the loss of all that stone from the trenches means that they were still underfilled.

To make up the shortfall, we've used loam from the stacks of turf we've been building in the copse while lifting turves from the quince, sweet-pea, and copse beds. Trenches topped up, we then decided to put up the chicken-wire cage for the applewalk, having previously thought of leaving it until after planting. However, with the centre of the walk now clear of soil (but still muddy and slippery), we decided there was good enough access, and the greater risk was of kicking a tree over while manoeuvring the heavy roll of wire net. The corner stakes aren't really secure enough to tension a fence (I couldn't drive them deeply enough into the stony soil), but they've sufficed for getting the protective cage round the apple beds. We also had to dig one or two more short drains, to ensure that the ground isn't too wet—the very wet weather of the last month means there are several stream flowing down the hillside, in the main gullies and land-drain, and the ground just inside the gap in the wall is a pond. Fortunately, all our drainage work last year seems to have done the job well, and the existing trees seem protected from the worst of it.

The fruit trees are scheduled to arrive this coming week, and so we should be able to plant up the apple walk next weekend, at long last.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Babies and Baking

No gardening news this week: we spent a long weekend in Cambridge, catching up with everyone at a biennial houseparty. We stayed with Philip and Rachel, and their now two-month old son. He's grown (considerably), as they has James, now about a year old, and on the verge of reliably walking. We also managed to see Ann, and her three-week old, who's very cute (and mellow, actually), so it's been a very paediatric trip. We interspersed rocking babies to sleep with baking, largely, so it's been rather fun.

Sunday, 26 January 2014


It's been an unpleasant job, in the wet and the wind, but we managed to finish digging the second apple-walk trench, as well as the three nursery-bed trenches. The latter came across far fewer stones, which made it easier than it could have been—we definitely picked the stoniest part of the field to build the apple walk.

Having dug the trench, we drove the first set of posts in: 2½" posts, 5'6" long, and spaced 3' apart. The first set of eleven were straightforward, but getting the second set parallel, with each one squarely opposite its pair, was a slog. Eventually, though, we got them all in, and are happy with their position. They're a bit wonky, in fairness, and not perfectly straight. I hope that we'll be able to drive the tubes for the actual arches a little more accurately. The stakes are off-set from the arches by a few inches (up-hill and outwards): the trees will be planted just outside the arch's tubes. As they're on MM106 rootstocks, they'll only need the stakes for a few years, to protect against wind rocking the roots, and then the stakes can be pulled up, or sawn off at ground level.

The nursery trenches were easier, as they don't have to be too accurate. There's a variety of heights, either 8' posts or 5'6", depending on what we intend for the adjacent tree. We can't be sure that we'll actually need them all for grafting: I've ordered three rootstocks per variety, but if the scion material is short, we may only get one, or two, scions worth from each. That's manageable: the rootstocks will 'keep'.

Once the support stakes were in, we also had posts to drive in around each set of beds (four around the nursery beds, six around the walk), which will support an anti-deer chicken-wire cage. We'll only put that up once the trees are in, to give maximum manoeuvrability for planting. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Second Trench

It's amazing how long some jobs can take.

We've almost finished digging the second 11m trench into which the apples of the apple walk will be planted. To do so, we've had to cut about 10m of drainage ditch, as well; lift (at a guess) six tons of stones out of the trenches (including two >500kg boulders); and flatten out a 35m2 area.

I've kept telling myself that, one day, it'll be beautiful.

We need to finish the last couple of meters of the second trench (ran out of energy and day-light), and then we can start driving the stakes and foundation rods for the metal work. The trees will arrive in the second week of February, and can go straight in the ground. Similarly, the rootstocks and scions for the six varieties we're grafting will get to us in the next few weeks: that means that the nursery bed trenches also need to be finished. Both apple walk and nursery beds will need chicken wire protection, for at least a few years, so that will need building, too.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

First Seeds of the Year

It feels very early to be doing so, but we've sown the first seeds of the season. For all the sweet pea varieties we grew last year, we had at least a dozen seeds left, so we've sown eight of each (some needed overnight soaking; others didn't). We've done a couple of pots of All Year Round cauliflowers; a pack of mixed hostas (we sowed some of the same ones last June: they grew on well, but were still rather small when they died back for winter, so although I'm hoping they'll come up in a couple of months, I wanted to get a new batch started rather earlier, in case); and two pots of Pennisetum macrourum 'Tail Feathers'.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

A Trench or Two

We've spent our time outside this weekend digging the trenches for the apple walk. To start with, I had to demolish the large stone (boulder) that we uncovered last time. It took a bit of whacking with the sledge hammer, but I managed to make it small enough that we could drag it out of the area of the walk.

Unfortunately, I then found an even bigger stone sitting the middle of the other (lower) planting line. This one was massive: about 6' by 3', and at least a foot thick: probably the best part of a metric ton. A long while later, I managed to break it in two, then make the larger piece small enough to move out of the way. We've now finished, eventually, digging over the first trench, and will try to get the other one dug next weekend.

We also have to prepare enough ground for 18 rootstocks, for fruit we're planning to graft with material from the National Fruit Collection. The rootstocks should arrive later this month, and scion material thereafter. There's a good spot near the plums where they should all fit, bearing in mind that they'll be there about a year.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Twelfth Night

And the last day of our holiday arrives.

2013's Christmas Cake ( Ian 2014)

Almost all our of jobs have been done, in fact, which is most surprising. We de-decorated this evening, having left it to the last minute.

Waes hael!

As They Mean To Go On

I suspect the cats are meaning to spend 2014 in their accustomed manner.

Somnolescent cats (both © Ian 2014)

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Digging the Apple Walk

As intended, we've managed to spend a day working towards planting the apple walk. Unfortunately, about halfway up the left planting line, we uncovered a massive boulder, which is part—I think—of a terracing wall from long ago. The terrace has disappeared into the undulations of the ground, now, and isn't so necessary: the soil is stabilized sufficiently by the trees, I think.

The boulder, probably a meter square, and 30cm thick, has defeated us so far: it's too heavy to move (probably 500kg). I think it's entirely uncovered, so I have resorted to using the sledgehammer to break it up. Once it's smaller, and moveable, we'll heave what's left out. The ground here is so stony that the spoil heap of stones looks a lot like we're building a dyke.

Our other bits-and-pieces have gone ok: we've split a load of firewood, and stacked it, and re-oiled the hedge and fruit trees on the hillside. Some of the hedges had been nibbled, which prompted this reapplication of deer-deterrent. Fortunately, the hedge plants will benefit from the trim, as it should promote a bushier, denser growth.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas 2013

Our Christmas, predictably, was a gourmand affair. I think we've had three 'Christmas' dinners, now.

Table set for the second Christmas dinner of 2013 (both © Ian 2013)

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Start of a Break

We finished work for Christmas on Thursday, and spent Friday getting ourselves a little more organized for the holiday. There's a list of things we want/need to to get done, and I think we're on top of the urgent ones. Ideally, we'll spend a day quilting towards the end of the holiday, and there's some things we'd like to work on outside, weather permitting. There's always boring administrative things to get done inside, when the weather fails to cooperate (like filing the receipts for 2013...). We spent a lovely day with my parents yesterday, having a pre-Christmas dinner, and finally watching the first Hobbit film. The pork liver pâté we made in October (and froze in anticipation!) was delicious.

With some luck, we should be able to make progress on preparing the site of the apple walk. We started about a month ago, having had the idea back when we visited Barnsdale. The apple arch there (photo on this website), and a similar one in the Highgrove walled garden, are the kind of thing we're trying to create. Each side of a 33' long, 8' wide tunnel will have apple trees planted (every 3'; eleven up each side). They'll be trained up each arch of the walk (each arch being 4' vertical, then a 4' radius, 180° arch, and back down 4') to the top, where two apples will meet. They'll be trained into one-sided espaliers, with 3' long arms coming off every 18" or so, to create the structure of the apple walk.

Ideally, on a level site, each tree would have arms on both sides, half the length. However, because the walk is going to slope upwards, unavoidably, this won't work. Branches trained downhill will fail to grow.

We've got twenty apples on order, and I've found two more that I can obtain grafting material for, which we'll try grafting ourselves. They all originate (as far as we can tell) in Yorkshire, and date from Roman times, through Norman introductions, and the Victorian boom in apple varieties. Whimsically, we're going to arrange them chronologically, so that the oldest are at the top, and the most recent (just a few decades old) is at the bottom, or start.

However, long before it looks like anything at all, we need to smooth the plot, dig out the stones, and improve the soil. And, probably, dig some drainage.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Flying Visit

Just a very quick note to record a one-night trip to Cambridge, to catch up with friends before Christmas. We'll see everyone at the start of February, but as Philip & Rachel's son was born a couple of weeks ago, we wanted to meet him, especially. By happy coincidence, Robert and Liz (and nearly-year-old Ash) were around, too, so I think we actually saw everyone.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Christmas Greenery

On Friday, we managed to use a dry spell to plant about thirty saplings along the back of the birch clearing. When they've grown, they'll form a boundary to the space, and delineate the 'maintained' clearing from the untamed hillside above, which we plan to leave as gorse, heather, bilberries, brambles and bracken. They're a mix of crabapples and hazels, left over from the hedges on the other side of the plot, and they've been planted, like those, with mycorrhizal fungi on their roots, and chilli-oil on their shoots.

The rest of the weekend, we seem to have spent decorating the house for Christmas. I like to think we do things properly.

All photos © Ian 2013

Sunday, 1 December 2013


In October, we dug a trench for hedge planting, aiming to make planting the hedge a quick job. It needed to be, because the plants we ordered were bare-root, and could arrive at any time. This had its problems, because they'd be stuck in their box for up to a week (if they arrived on a Monday), but we certainly couldn't leave them waiting to plant while we cleared the ground (stones and all), and heeling in 350 plants didn't appeal.

So, we pre-dug the trench, refilled it with stoneless soil, and covered it with weed membrane. The plants arrived on Friday (the perfect day of the week for them to get to us), and we've spent most of the daylight this weekend planting them out. About 170 of them now form the formal hedge up the left of the orchard. These are planted into crosses cut in the weed membrane, having been dipped in mycorrhizal fungi suspension. It's a random mix of myrobalan plums, hazel, crabapples, and purple beech. This should give a good combination of spring blossom, autumn fruit and foliage, and winter cover; good for us, and good for wildlife. We've planted them at 25cm spacing, and I'll top them in late winter, to encourage a dense lower section.

The bare-root hedging plants (purple beech, myrobalan plums, hazels, and crab-apples) before planting; far right is the crab-apple 'Golden Hornet' (© Ian 2013).
A further 80-odd have been planted along the less-formal boundary in the clearing above. We used all the plums in the lower hedge, so this should be able to get a bit taller, and the higher proportion of beech means it'll keep more leaves over winter. We want this to be more of a screen, so that the clearing feels protected and secluded.

Lastly, there were twenty 'Midwinter Fire' dogwoods in the delivery, seventeen of which we planted in a long drift in the birch clearing. When grown, they should guide you up into the birch stand, and form a backdrop to it. They look a lot like sticks, at the moment, though. We'll have to be sure to keep the bracken down over the next year, to stop them being overgrown, but that should be manageable.

The same bare-root hedging plants, along with 'Golden Hornet' and the 'Midwinter Fire' dogwoods at top (© Ian 2013).

There's still a bundle of bare-root plants that are heeled in to the vegetable garden, ready to plant as a hedge-edge along the back of the birch clearing. Fortunately, having planted the bulk (300 or so) of the plants, the rest could be heeled in until later. There was also a Parrotia persica (Persian ironwood) in the delivery, which is going near the woodshelter; but that's containerized, and will wait. The last part of the consignment was a 'Golden Hornet' crabapple, which is destined for the centre of the games lawn: that's also heeled in for now. There's not much urgency with that: it'll be happy heeled in until February, I expect.

Sunday, 24 November 2013


Back in June, we made some progress getting the paths in the kitchen garden towards their long-intended final state. They'd always been grass, in theory, which in reality meant mud down the middle, and weeds along the edges. Long dissatisfied with this, we wanted to level them, put down weed membrane, and lay a thick layer of chippings. This worked well in front of the woodstore, and so a week ago I arranged for our friendly tree surgeon to drop off a truck-load of sycamore chippings. This is the small branches, twigs, and leaves, put through a Timberwolf shredder. The mix is quite a lot like hedge clippings, which compost well, though it's probably got more wood in it. Anyway; while it's not as 'nice' as bark chippings, it has a lot to recommend it. It's free; it's a waste product that would otherwise be processed by someone into peat-free compost; it works well on paths to keep them weed-free and drier.

The biggest benefit: after a year, it should turn into really nice mulch.

We put a load of the chippings onto the paths, which now look really tidy. We then started scraping up the chippings from the front of the wood store, which have, now (after six months in a heap, and a year on the path) turned into really well broken down compost. That's been going on the sweet-pea beds, and we're about half way up the path, replacing it with new. We ran out of light, unfortunately, which is often the case at this time of year. Four weeks, I make it, until the solstice.

Other than that, we've started clearing and levelling the ground where the apple arch walk will go, in the corner of the orchard. I think we've hit a terracing wall, as I seemed to be digging out a pile of stones. It's gone reasonably, though: I think another couple of days clearing/levelling, and a couple of days actually digging the planting trenches (which will probably need a good deal of compost or topsoil adding in).

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Almost Ready

After most of another weekend of work, we're almost ready for our bare-root hedging plants to arrive (whenever that is). It's the time of year when, in reality, there's not much time to be outside. By the time we're up, have eaten, and got ourselves sorted, it's normally half-ten, and the light starts to fail by four. That makes a scant five hours available to work, out of which we lose at least some time for lunch.

These things can't be helped.

I used Sigrid to make a first pass at clearing the middle of what I'm going to term 'the boundary clearing' (on the left of the hillside, and which merges, at present, with the neighbouring territory), before we manually cut back the gorse, and pulled up gorse trunks. Over the years (decades, probably), the gorse bushes have straggled out, and many have six foot trunks, lying on the floor (buried by leafmould), with the bush some distance from its rootstock. Fortunately, once you've cut the spiny top, the branch usually pulls up readily enough. We cleared the clearing's left side, making a huge heap of gorse and brambles, yesterday. Today, we tidied up a little, and have marked where we intend to plant some of our hedging plants, in order to create a continuous barrier at that side. At the moment, you can see straight into Ivy Cottage's windows from the clearing, which suits no-one. Once the beech, hazels, plums, and apples are there, and growing, the clearing will feel more sheltered, secluded, and secure.

We're aiming for something that doesn't feel like a hedge, but a more natural boundary. I won't trim the plants into a squared-off shape, and they're not in a straight line. Once they're established, I'd quite like to grow some roses, and some ivy, through them, for flowers, winter foliage, and wildlife (ivy's a fantastic late-season food for pollinators).

Until then, there are just little cairns of stones, marking each of forty-six spots, running down to the corner where the fence ends. It takes in a number of small trees that are established (hawthorns and blackthorns), and skirts a holly tree. At the moment, you can enter the clearing from the orchard at that end, but eventually, once we've cleared more blackthorn, the entrance will be further along, about a third of the way along the back boundary, where you'll go through an arch of plums, and either left to this clearing, or right into the other.

Once we'd placed these, we used the last hour of light to go back to that other clearing (the birch clearing), and keep cutting back the gorse there. We're done, now, with manual cutting, and I need to go back with Sigrid to clear the brambles and bracken. The structure of the clearing is now clear, and we'll be planting a short run of the same hedge mix at the back of it, to delineate the clearing, and give it some boundary. There'll be a 'gate' above the birches, up the hillside through the heather, or a passage leading left into a cluster of trees, and then on into the boundary clearing.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Elderberry & Apple Jelly

After cooking the fruit yesterday evening, and straining for 24 hours, I had a pan full of elderberry and apple juice this evening. I think, in future, I might cook and strain them separately: I think the elderberry would have yielded more without the almost mucilaginous apple pulp. However, 450g of sugar per 600ml of juice, brought to the boil until it reaches 104°C, as normal. This one was quite exuberant, and almost boiled over several times, but we got there in the end. There was quite a lot of foam, which I managed to contain to one jar, which will be hidden away for us to eat on our own. The rest look rather presentable, with a dark, rich jelly.

Sunday, 10 November 2013


We spent this morning stacking a delivery of firewood, which means the wood shelter is almost full, now. Until I've used a half-stack, there's not room to stack more: for the first time in a couple of years, we can't saw or split more wood, as there's nowhere to put it; an odd sensation.

Of course, that doesn't mean there's nothing to do. Saturday morning was taken up with wall insulation matters (technical survey), and the afternoon we spent in the main clearing on the hillside, getting out more gorse, brambles, and bracken from around the stand of silver birches. There's now quite a nice path becoming clear that leads you from the entering corner (from the future apple walk), along the front of the clearing, then round a arcing 'ramp' towards the stand of trees. We've got twenty 'Midwinter Fire' dogwoods on order, many of which are destined for this clearing, to start building a woodland garden which will probably look its best in spring.

This afternoon, our attention's been on the other side of the hillside, above the apples, where there's another clearing, which we've not done anything with previously. The two will wind up linked by a short passage, I expect, but entry into this, left-hand clearing will be from near the James Grieve apple tree, where we think we might create an entry arch with four fan-trained plums forming a pergola of some sort. Early days, for that, though. For now, we were working out what needs to come down in the clearing, where the treeline will remain, and what we need to add -- mainly, some purple beech and hazels along the left edge, near the boundary, where the planting is sparse. We cut down a number of blackthorns, and next weekend I'll take Sigrid up and start properly clearing the undergrowth.

Before we came in, I collected a big bowl full of elderberries, from the tree at the top of the colour-wheel garden, where they're still clinging to the tree, despite the leaves having all fallen. The berries, and 150% of their weight in roughly chopped apples, have been cooked with 600ml/kg of water, until pulpy. I'll set them straining through a jelly bag before bed, and tomorrow they can become jelly.

Monday, 4 November 2013


We've been pressing apples for the last couple of evenings, scratting the apples, and pressing the milled pomace. A couple of trugs full of apples has been enough to put two gallons of juice into a fermenting bucket, which I've inoculated with 'Nottingham' yeast this evening, as well as bottle eleven 1l kilner bottles with pasteurized juice. The pomace is still in the press, dripping slowly, and there should be about another litre tomorrow evening.

I anticipate the cider fermentation to be a bit frothy and messy, initially, which is why the two gallons of must are in a five gallon bucket. Once it's calmed, I'll move it into a pair of demi-johns, to complete fermentation. I must remember to add pectolase, too, or it'll definitely be a bit hazy.

First Frost

Today sees the first frost of the winter: later than I'd expect, but October was mild, and we've only just put the heating on this last weekend. The rest of the weekend (getting the boiler fired up the first time each winter is not insignificant, with two thousand litres of water to heat from 14 to 85°C) was spent on bits and pieces, including chopping and stacking a few cubic metres of firewood, and—fortunately, given today's weather!—lifting the Bishop of Llandaff dahlias.

I notice that my 25th October entry, about putting up the orchard fence, is my 400th. Cue some stats and data...

Bizarrely, in both my first twelve months of this blog, and the second twelve, I managed exactly the same number of posts (111); and in each of the third and fourth years, I made 90 entries. As well as a round number of posts, it's almost exactly four years since I started keeping the log of what was going on in the house and garden.

I've now managed to blog on 73% of the days of the year: interestingly, I've always written something on 1st September. One day, I'd quite like to compile a collection of diary entries, one for each day of the year. I think they'd give an interesting view of the regularities and irregularities, as a 3rd March from one year is followed by a 4th March from another. Monty Don's book, The Ivington Diaries, follows this structure, and I rather enjoyed reading it.

Apparently, it'll take me at least one more year of blogging to accumulate enough entries to cover the whole year (I managed to 'collect' 29th February last year, by accident, so I don't need to wait until 2018 for that!), but I may get there yet.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


We spent today visiting my parents, and went to a craft fair in Masham (two new pole lathe turned candlesticks!), and have also acquired a new blackcurrant (Ben Sarek or Ben Lomand; not sure which) from mum, which she was disposing of. It'll either go in a fruit cage, or on the hillside (though it might replace a blackcurrant in the fruit cage which then itself goes on the hillside).

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Chilli Oil

The chilli oil we painted onto the fruit trees in August seems to have worked, and we've not noticed any more deer/bunny damage on the fruit or pines. As the weather's starting to turn autumnal, and it's been a while, we thought we'd re-apply the deterrent. We mixed three heaped dessertspoons of hot chilli powder into about 700ml of oil, and worked round the orchard, daubing each tree with some. As we went, I sorted out a few too-vertical branches, and cleared weeds from around the trunks.

This afternoon, we've continued tidying the garden, getting it sorted for winter, and moving the last few things into the greenhouse, or workshop: the tuhlbergia, agapanthus, and pelargoniums all needed to come in. The three Bishop of Llandaff dahlias can wait a little longer, we reckon, as there's not been any frosts yet.

Our batch of spiced apple mincemeat has gone into its jars (one and about three-quarters of a 1.5kg kilner), and we then spent some time juicing apples. My mechanized scratter hasn't worked as planned (difficulty connecting axle with rollers), but the aluminium drums with screws set in them work really well as manual graters, and we were able to create good milled apples for pressing. The yield is pleasing: about 55% (ie, 550ml from a kilo of fruit), or nearly 5l from a filled (nominal 12l) press. The juice has been pasteurized (70°C) and bottled.

Friday, 25 October 2013


Having dug the trench for the hedge that will go inside it, today was spent putting up the boundary fence at the edge of the orchard. We've opted for C8/80/15 stock fencing: it's a heavy-weight 'C' wire, with 10 guage (3.0mm) top and bottom wires, with the rest 12 gauge (2.6mm). There are 8 horizontal wires (not evenly spaced: the lower ones are smaller, to deter squeezing through), and it's 80cm tall, with 15cm gaps between the verticals.

We decided to put the fence posts (2.5") every 2700mm (9'), with a chunkier, 3.5" post at each end (with angled straining bar) and in the middle. Getting the posts in took until early afternoon: most of them were straightforward, with only one hitting stones. The stock fence went on in a couple of hours: a joint effort in tensioning it, and it now looks pretty tight. It now looks pretty good: we've left the boundary posts that weren't in the right places to be fence posts, but once Peter and Sara have checked they're happy, these can come out.