May Day Bank Holiday Ramblings

I sat down at my laptop a couple of weeks ago and thrashed out a blog post – it wasn’t very inspired, more like a list of everything that’s going down (or growing up) in my greenhouse. I wouldn’t want to read it, and I couldn’t see any reason why anybody else might, so it has sat unpublished whilst I work out what I wanted to say next.

Every day I seem to have a long list of things to do – some days I manage it, and sometimes it goes out of the window. For instance, yesterday, instead of turning out my books and clothes (I’m having some major “I NEED TO SORT OUT MY LIFE” moments, which translate into gargantuan spring cleans) we decided to ditch everything and head out to Cambridge for the day. We don’t live too far away, and with the extraordinarily handy Madingley Road Park and Ride, for all intents and purposes it’s so easy to get into the town centre. You see, I have a new love affair with Cambridge. I feel at home there. Rich said in some ways it reminds him of Edinburgh, and I agree. It’s almost as if the place lives and breathes history – there’s always a sense of what was living alongside what is and what will be. I’ve now decided that I’d like to live closer to Cambridge, before I make my big move to the coast. One day.

But back to my little plot, my little bit of England, and things are all going a bit higgledy-piggledy, as I knew they would by now. With the burst of summer that was thrown at us a fortnight ago, everything surged ahead, ignorant of nature’s summery false start. In the greenhouse the peppers and chillis are growing slowly and diligently, and I have high hopes for strong plants that will fruit abundantly this year. Likewise the kale and cabbages are doing well, perhaps because I am much more attentive this year, and they’re not being fried alive in the Smallest Smallholding Valley of Death, aka the conservatory. The greenhouse staging has somehow forced me into a routine of care, as I no longer forget to water my seedlings and visit them at least twice a day to find out how they’re getting on. Funny how a piece of furniture can have such a positive effect.

The woodland strawberries were sown weeks ago but are yet to show any signs of life; I fear I may have bought a duff packet. The leeks are also growing with purpose, looking strong and sturdy, yet I can’t help but brush my hands over the tops of them, and let the tips tickle my palms. There’s something very relaxing and almost hypnotic about standing in your greenhouse, and sweeping your hand over your tray of leek seedlings. I thoroughly recommend it. In the words of Mrs Doyle “go ooonnnnnn”.

Of course the grass and weeds are surging ahead at an unforgivable rate; at least, unforgiving to me as our lawn mower has packed up and at present, I’m forced to borrow my mother’s electric mower with a blade measuring just 30cm in diameter. Not only does juggling the extension lead and mower lead require great skill, but mowing takes half a day and makes me cross. We’re getting to that time of year where I begin to feel bad tempered towards my Smallest Smallholding; it teases me, refusing to be tamed and reminding me exactly how insignificant I am when it comes to me vs. the forces of nature. I blame the bindweed. It’s a bad influence. But armed with my spade, and a lot of (blood) sweat (and tears) and determination, and possibly a book on permaculture, I shall one day conquer it. Ha!

Actually, things have been getting out of hand a lot earlier than usual this year. No doubt hundreds of bloggers across the country have noted the early arrival of spring/summer, and here it is no different. The bluebells and wild garlic have already filled my local woodland, at least two or three weeks earlier than ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ is these days. The honeysuckle and clematis montana are already out in force and over a fortnight ago our first blackbird fledglings were out on their own.

So strange.

But then, the past month or so I have been feeling strange. Very, very occasionally I’ll have this feeling that my life is changing by small, almost imperceptible degrees. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a definite feeling of life moving on, or up, or sideways – just changing. Maybe it’s growing up, I don’t know. Sometimes it feels right and sometimes it leaves me feeling as if I never have enough time and I’m always behind it – I’m not moving fast enough with it and it’s leaving me behind. In fact, lately I’ve been feeling as though I’ve been wading through a quagmire and not making much progress at all – things are on hold, I’m never changing or moving and I’m going to be stuck where I am – financially, emotionally and socially – for the rest of my life.

Hence the massive spring cleans. It’s like getting read of my past’s detritus – those bits I cling on to and won’t let go because somehow I’m scared I’ll forget what it was like to be a slightly oddball teenager with passions and imagination and high hopes for the future. But in reality that translates to holding onto old clothes, scuffed up panpipes, oil burners, books that I will never, ever read again… as if I will never be that interesting or imaginative ever again if I let these things go. And living in a house that resembles a building site is like living some sort of lifestyle purgatory. I can’t stand that feeling. In a way it drives me to do more, achieve more, get something – anything – finished. My book would be a good starting place. Oh I know what you’re thinking… oh yes, another ‘would be’ novelist, nice dream, fat chance. But writing and being a writer is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to ‘do’ or ‘be’, and as acting looking a less and less likely option for me, writing is something that I think will satisfy all the different parts of me. Gardening, growing veg, loving wildlife and attempting to live self-sufficiency is part of my lifestyle, what makes me happy. It all mixes in together. Writing is something that I want to do for a living. About time I made more of an effort! And stop making excuses and found the time.

Happy May Day.

Remember, you can keep up with my daily thoughts, ramblings and more pictures at the Smallest Smallholding Facebook Page.

Another mammoth rambling entry – woodland bluebells and rubbish brassicas

It sounds like some of you had just as a good a weekend as I did last week. And I can’t believe that already, I’m in the middle of yet another weekend. The week just seemed to zoom by. As much as I love the weekend, it worries me a bit that time seems to be flying past at such a pace. I mean, we’re already in May. May! That’s almost half way through 2009. 2009!!!! I’m only just getting used to writing 2009 or ’09. Before you know it, it’ll be Chr….ooooo not going to say the ‘C’ word yet.

No, I’m just being silly. The growing season has yet to really get into full swing. Not that you’d know it by looking at my Utterly Pathetic Seedlings. The green aphids that suspiciously/miracuously transported themselves into my conservatory (read: giant propagator that has been messing everything up) have been slowly sucking the life out of my cosmos seedlings. And some of my chilli seeds that were part of my birthday present from my cousin. Boo! And yesterday morning I came down to find that Snoopy had let himself into the conservatory and done a bit of his own handiwork – he’d managed to not only snip the tops of four of my giant single sunflowers, but also sat on and flattened my salad tray AGAIN, and sat on my spindly string-like leeks and flattened those too. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Rich has been working like a trooper, going to bed at stupid o’clock and rising with me again at 7am. He’s had no time to make a start on my greenhouse staging, but I’m hoping next week things will calm down and I’ll finally be able to start moving things out to the greenhouse. It’s missing two panes in the roof (something else that needs fixing), so is a sort of halfway house for hardening off some of my seedlings. The cabbages and other brassicas I’ve got on the go in the conservatory are just so crap it’s unbelievable. I doubt they’ll do anything, but I’ll still stick them outside. I am definitely going to try again with them. Brassicas and propagators/warm, sunny rooms are just a no-go. This, I have learnt. Last year I sowed a load of primo cabbages in module trays and just left them outside on the garden table, and they did wonderfully well. I think this slow, cooler propagation is definitely the way to go. So I’ll probably get around to doing that sometime this weekend, because, yes, it’s a BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND which means I have EXTRA TIME TO DO WHAT I WANT TO DO (apart from the fact that I have a load of freelance work to catch up on, but shhh, we don’t mention that. We pretend I have all the time in the world to while away as I wish…until Tuesday at least).

Yesterday I also bought some more butternut squash seeds. Of the three I sowed in the conservatory, one germinated and looks to be doing pretty well. Butternut squash plants take up a heck of a lot of space, so what I’ll be doing is buying some straw bales and putting them in one side of the greenhouse. The squash plants can then sprawl along those. Mum had some new-fangled idea about growing hers in a hanging basket and using melon nets or something, but I narrowed my eyes and contorted my face in a kind of cynical way when we were discussing it.  I’m sure I looked very attractive (!). I don’t know, it may work. Maybe I’ll give it a try and let you all know.

I’ve still got to empty the old, rusty wheelbarrow (currently full of bits of hardcore that were pulled up when the veg plots were originally dug), and then fill it with soil and strawberries. That’s just one of those annoying jobs (emptying, not the planting) that I’m pretty sure I just won’t get around to. Or maybe I’ll just make a concerted effort and do it of an evening sometime next week after work. Speaking of strawberries, our alpine strawberries that grow in the gravelled area outside the backdoor have made a spectacular comeback. There are flowers. There will be tiny, juicy, fruits. Whoop!

Glad to see our fruit trees have been in blossom, and that Mr and Mrs Bee have been having a field day pollinating them. It’s very encouraging. The only thing is that the damson now has these strange wart-like green growths on a few leaves. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the reason we hardly got any fruit last year?

The flowers in the garden have come out in a spectacular fashion in the last week or so; the clematis montana looks like a fountain of pink, the honeysuckle smells absolutely divine in the evenings, the wallflowers, euphorbia, dew’s mallow, tiarella, honesty and lilac are all adding some much-needed colour after a long winter. In my mini (currently microscopic) woodland garden, the forget-me-nots, dicentra (dutchman’s breeches/bleeding heart), wild buttercup and oxalis are out and looking stunning. The wood anenomes that I planted last year haven’t come out yet, although I’m hoping they’ll make a later appearance. I’ve got some foxgloves and poppies pushing through too, very glad to see so Mr Bee will be able to keep himself busy at the Smallest Smallholding.

This time of year is just fantastic – the clouds are still distinctly April-like in their volume and frothiness, the days are getting longer and warmer, the hues of green look so fresh and new, and everywhere great swathes of colour are starting to appear. Rich and I went for an hour-long walk in my local woods, which are just completely awash with wild garlic and bluebells at the moment. We even saw a roe deer grazing in the middle of the woodland. So picturesque. I’m so lucky to live where I live.

And here at home, the birds are getting busy – so my final note in this exceedingly long entry is this: please don’t forget to feed the birds. With raising their young at the moment, they need all the help that they can get. Let me know if you’re feeding yours!

(Oh, and next week is National Compost Awareness Week I think. So I may be blogging about compost. If I have anything to say on the matter…).