Please peas me

banana shallots
Through the “fog” of the last month, my Smallest Smallholding has continued bursting into life. The fresh leafy green of late Spring is in abundance, there’s perpetual bird song, and colour everywhere. At times it has almost felt like I’m being taunted – all this life and amazement around me whilst I grapple with another one of life’s curveballs – but it’s also helped me through. I think nature has a way of just guiding you through the hard times. It is literally grounding to have a veg patch to tend to, or plants to nurture. I’m feeling OK for now. My cat is responding well and seems pretty happy in herself. We’re just taking it day by day and being really thankful for all the good days.


Charles Ross apple tree

This year I wanted to try a few new things to increase my growing repertoire. I’m a fan of perennial things since they don’t need so much looking after in the frosty days of early spring, so fruit trees and perennial fruit bushes are always a safe option, in my eyes.

blackcurrant Ben Tirran

This year I planted in two blackcurrant bushes. Last year’s bumper crop of raspberries meant that I was able to make my first pots of delicious home-made jam, using an exceedingly simple WI recipe. We’ve almost finished the last jar and since I failed to make any marmalade this year we’ll be waiting on the blackcurrants. My crop will be less than modest this year, but next year I’m hoping for a bumper crop, enough for jam, cheesecake (yes, vegans can enjoy cheesecake too) and coulis. Maybe even some ice cream…

Rondo peas

In the veg plots I’ve planted my first ever peas – Rondo peas. Peas hold a particular significance for me; I have hazy memories of my grandmother sitting out in the sunshine in her garden, popping peas. I didn’t realise then how much my grandparents would influence the way I am as an adult, but my early exposure to homegrown veg and flowers has shaped the way that I look at the world. So I guess growing my peas are a little homage to my grandparents, and a way for me to relive a part of my childhood where I felt so safe and life was so simple.

The no-dig approach has been working really well for my veg plots so far, and I’ve had to do less than a quarter of the amount of weeding that I would have usually done by now. Everything just looks stronger, nourished and abundant. Our soil turns to sand so quickly without regular rain so extra nutrients being pulled down into our plots has meant less work for me, and I’m looking forward to pulling up big, healthy veg and cooking it all up later in the season.

Spring is easing into summer here, and the Smallest Smallholding is looking better than ever. Our hard work is paying off, although we still have so much to do. Will the polytunnel ever go up?


We didn’t see this coming

bluebell woods

Two weeks ago I received a huge blow. My cat Mindu, who I adopted when I was just 19, was diagnosed with large cell lymphoma. There is currently no cure.

She had been fine in herself, and I’d just noticed in the last couple of weeks before I took her to the vet that she had been losing some weight. We have another cat with hyperthyroidism, so I thought it might be this. “I think that I can feel a tumour,” the vet said after palpating her gut. Several tests, a scan and an x-ray later and his diagnosis was confirmed. Within a week she was looking gaunt and poorly.

I didn’t stop crying for a week and a half. I have always felt so protective over Mindu especially, the most timid and sweet of all my beloved cats. She lives in my bedroom, sleeps on my bed, comes to me for cuddles and comfort. And there was nothing I could do to take this horrible disease away from her, and stop her being taken away from me. I was bereft.

Our only shot at elongating her life is chemotherapy. It sounds awful and people not in the know immediately think of human chemotherapy, with its awful side effects and suffering. Feline chemotherapy is vastly different, since it would be unethical to put a cat, who doesn’t understand, through that much suffering. Human chemo is often done at pretty much toxic levels in the search for a cure. Feline chemo is designed to elongate life but also give back quality of life.

Mindu had her first chemo on Friday. Beforehand we were lucky if she ate a bit of boiled fish or stayed in my arms for a 10 second cuddle. We expected her to be a little under the weather perhaps, but the day she got home she started eating normal cat food again and purring. Proper happy purrs and kneading. And she seems almost back to herself again. She’s back to sleeping on my bed, coming to me for cuddles and headbutting me. She’s relaxed. It’s so strange, so unexpected after these last two weeks of bad news, worse news, and awful news. I’m tentative and aware that it could all change in the blink of an eye, so I’m having to take the good days as they come, and be thankful for them.

We have no idea how long the chemo will give her. The aim is to shrink the tumours and get her into remission, but they will eventually come back, sometimes resistant to the chemo. For some cats it works, for others it doesn’t. We just don’t know what the future holds for her. We may have extra weeks, we may have months. We may have a year. In 10% of cases, some cats have a couple of years. She turned 13 this month. I just want her happy and in my life for as long as possible. I love her so much.


Seedlings aplenty

purple tulip

Spring has well and truly sprung and the days are so much longer, meaning we’ve been spending more and more time outside and getting ahead before everything explodes into life. The recent bout of unseasonably warm weather has accelerated us out of the arctic-tinged days of early spring and right into the belly of the season that kick starts the growing year.

In the past few years I’ve been making a concerted effort to fill our borders with plants for every season, and this year we’ve enjoyed even more daffodils, hellebores and the most sumptuously jewel-coloured tulips in the borders. It’s a kind of therapy that has lifted me out of my winter-induced slump – the colour, the scents and the warmth gradually weaving threads of joy through my veins.  Already the alliums are shooting up and in a month or so we’ll be getting ready for the stunning display of purple sensation that should complement the bees’ favourite, Himalayan crane’s bill along with the round-headed allium sphaerocephalon.

Cristo garlic

Usually at this time of year I’m lamenting about how far behind I am with the planting, but even despite Spring’s early surge, I’m keeping up. I have really high hopes for this year. Really high hopes. The onions are already in and looking strong and healthy, the shallots are in and looking promising. We’ve got parsnips on the go, and in the greenhouse – which was completely out of commission last year – is crammed with seed trays and pots.

Each morning, as the sun swings round from the east, higher into the sky and bathing the garden in a watery light, I take a trip down to the greenhouse to see what’s unfolding. The day to day progress of my little seedlings is astounding. In the course of one day I’ve seen squash and courgette plants almost literally burst into life, casting aside the hard cases of the seeds as the thick, sturdy seedling leaves push through the soil. They’re now growing and growing into strong plants and I’m actually where I should be in the growing season.

Rondo peas

Seeing my greenhouse and veg plots come to life after a quiet winter… well, there’s a certain special kind of satisfaction in that, isn’t there? The next job is to get the polytunnel up this summer. We will get there!