Greenhouse of shame

Ah, spring. What a temptress… one minute, it’s all bright sunshine, blue skies and a burst of colour, the next it’s grey-clouded drudgery, and north-easterly arctic winds blowing a gale through your house. I have just come to the end of a week off work, and for the most part the weather was crap. So as always I didn’t get out nearly as much as needed, and didn’t get as many jobs done as I wanted to.

The greys, browns and sludge-greens of late winter are depressing enough, but my greenhouse had been left to rack and ruin for the past year, and seeing it looking like an overgrown mini bombsite every time I walked outside just added to the feelings of despondency! It wasn’t even charmingly rambly like something out of the Lost Garden of Heligan. It just resembled a cesspit of shame:

greenhouse of shame

Greenhouse cleaning is one of those jobs (like digging) that I really really really don’t like doing. But I couldn’t take it anymore. It just had to be done.

So I spent four hours clearing out dead bindweed, removing the old straw bale (fab compost material) that I’d previously grown squashes on, and dug up two barrow loads of bindweed roots, all just to find some semblance of restored order. As you can see from the pictures below, my greenhouse fell victim to a storm about a year ago, where we lost a number of glass panels. Those will have to be replaced at some point but for now we’re just enjoying some “ventilation”. The greenhouse is in a pretty sheltered corner, so there’s still a decent amount of heat and protection from frost in there.

before and after

Typically, it’s still a half-finished job, but at least it’s looking a little less neglected. Around the outside, I’ll also be chipping our pruned apple tree branches to make homemade mulch which will be going over some weed suppressing mat, and then there’s the even more brain-numbingly boring job of cleaning pots and trays before I even put the greenhouse into action. But once it’s done, it’s done and I should be able to reap the rewards. It’ll be a thing of beauty, a corner of my Smallest Smallholding that I’ll be proud to photograph in all its glory.

For now, I’ve only got a couple of trays of Red Baron onion sets on the go, but with the arctic winds giving way to a bit more spring cheer, the (well ventilated) shelves should be filling up with seed trays very soon. Watch this space…

New Garden Tools

In my week off, the weather was very kind. For the most part, there were long sunny intervals, and a few short but heavy shower bursts to keep the ground sufficiently moist. Great news for our crops but it also means that the weeds and grass need tending to much more regularly. At the moment we’re in a bit of a middle ground where we’re doing lots of shifting around, digging out and preparation, so there has been quite a lot of bare earth around. As many of you will no doubt already know, bare earth is a breeding ground for weeds. Whilst I don’t mind a few flowering weeds and we’re far from neat, tidy and sterile, we do need to keep on top of things. Lots of weeding, pruning and cutting back.

Recently asked if I would like to sample a couple of their gardening products. Whilst I am clearly (I hope) not a man, there were plenty of gardening bits and pieces for me to try out (pretty much all of them, with anyone and everyone able to do gardening of one sort or another). With so many ‘maintenance’ type jobs to do around The Smallest Smallholding, I decided to put on my practical hat and try out a Burgon & Ball handheld razor hoe and a barrow bag.

Originally I thought the razor hoe was for cutting down small crops – much like a scythe – but actually, you can use it in a drawing motion under the soil to uproot and get rid of annuals and some perennial weeds really easily. We have a few problem spots with nettles – the ground is really hard and compacted and the nettle roots strong, so digging them out by hand is a nightmare. The razor hoe makes it much easier to get in and under the roots. And if left unchecked, even on an innocuous bit of open ground our sandy soil quickly forms a hard crust and becomes quickly colonised with weeds, so hoeing regularly is a must when the soil needs to be kept bare (not for long – polytunnel plans!). I find it very difficult to dig with a fork and use a long handled hoe because of my back problems, but surprisingly using a handheld razor hoe has been very easy! It makes short work of compacted soil and uproots annuals easily by loosening the soil quickly around the roots:

The sharp blade breaks up the soil as you drag it through. In stubborn areas like the nettle bed where the roots are virtually cemented into the hard soil, I use the razor hoe to firstly hook up the roots and then, if needed, cut through them to pull up the larger root systems in sections. I’ve already managed to keep a path into what will be my wildlife pond area mostly clear and – shock – because I’m making good progress on finally removing the roots, I think I may be actually clearing it once and for all. In the past I’ve only have the time and inclination to chop down the top growth, only for the new growth to come through only a matter of weeks later.


The second product I opted for was a barrow bag that increases the volume of the wheelbarrow. It unfolds and sits inside the barrow, making the sides taller so that you can transport more to the compost bins. This has been really handy as we have several hedges and large plots that have needed a bit overhaul (ie lots of green matter for the compost bins). The bag seems tough and durable, and folds down nicely afterwards so it’s easy to store, and great for lazy bums like me who don’t want to be wheeling back and forth to the compost bins all the time! It also has two handles so it can be easily lifted out of the barrow, into the boot of our car and taken to the green waste containers at the the tidy tip. It took me a couple of days to fill up the barrow bag, and I think it pretty much doubles the wheelbarrow’s capacity at least. Very handy and highly recommended!

Polytunnel Planning

I don’t have time to be bored these days. Not when there’s so much to do at the Smallest Smallholding. This weekend we totted up the hours working outside, but the time we’re putting in is really starting to pay off. I spent most of the weekend working on my hands and knees, using a hand fork to dig out several barrow loads of annual and perennial weeds. Using a hand fork saves my back – I would have been crippled after half an hour of digging with a fork.

Polytunnel ground work

We now have a nice neat and very brown bed of bare soil. OK, so it’s not the prettiest bit of garden to look at, but THINK OF THE POTENTIAL. Because that’s where our lovely sort-of-brand-spanking-new polytunnel is going to go. We must have got the polytunnel around a year ago, but we’ve struggled to find the time and capacity to clear the polytunnel site properly. And in that intervening year-or-thereabouts, the labels have washed off and the instructions have gone AWOL. Luckily, First Tunnels have some handy online videos, so we’ll have to do our best with those.

But first, we have to work out where the polytunnel beds and path will go. I’m thinking that we’ll need some weed suppressant membrane and then gravel… or if I can find a few extra pounds, some blue slate chips. The same for the outside of the tunnel, as we won’t be able to strim any stray grass easily around the outer sheet. Ideally I’d have some raised beds inside and move out my greenhouse staging for any seed growing I’m inclined to do. But this year because I know I have had so much back-to-basics work to do, I’ve tried to keep the growing simple – onions, garlic, potatoes etc – and keep the focus on getting everything properly sorted out, under control and ready for next year’s growing bonanza (because, you know, it will be a mega harvest and I will no longer be spending stupid amounts of money on sub-standard commercially produced pap from the supermarket grocery aisles).

I am hoping that we can get a ‘polytunnel team’ together from family and get the thing up at some point this year. My mum suggested an ‘erection team’ but then quickly withdrew her suggestion. Or at least, renamed it. After we sniggered a lot. Once the polytunnel is up and running, Mum will nab our greenhouse and I’ll use the greenhouse site for another much-needed tool shed, with room to grow little bits and pieces in pots around it. I’ll probably paint the shed some cheerful colour, stick a gutter and waterbutt on it, and try to grow a climber up it. Maybe even have a hanging basket off the front for some tumbling tomatoes. I’m trying to think of ways to turn everything into a productive space because I am so sick of doling out money. I just want to disconnect from so much consumerism and my polytunnel plan is a major step in that direction.

Onwards and upwards, as a dearly departed friend would say.