The Raspberries Are In and Other Things

Yes, the title says it all. I got my Polka raspberries in last weekend, beneath a beautifully blue sky. I’m ashamed to say that although Stephen at Victoriana Nursery Gardens sent through a very informative leaflet about caring for my raspberry canes, I have a feeling that it may have be sabotaged by my bunnies. They like to eat papery things, and I fear it has fallen victim to the nibbly nibblers.

So Stephen, if you’re out there – I’ve got my raspberries in, but what do I do now?! I have a bag of wood ash that I was going to sprinkle around the roots, and I need to water them a bit more thoroughly I think. We have well-draining soil so hopefully they should do OK. I have visions of fat juicy raspberries making it into fresh summer desserts, brought out of the freezer for rich autumn crumbles, and preserved for rich fruit jams over winter. That’s if I’ve planted them in properly. I just need… reassurance. I’m a complete novice when it comes to soft fruit.

I also went a bit mad over last weekend and bought a telescopic pruner with a proper pruning saw. I set about hacking the last of the big hedges down, and started on the fruit trees. Our crab apple, bless it, was looking a bit worse for wear. It had massive branches that had been weighed down and half snapped by a bumper harvest a couple of years ago. Since I’ve been at it with the pruning saw it looks a bit… well… different. It’s OK. I’ll see how it goes. The birds sat around and looked on, probably wondering what on earth the human with the big long metal arms was doing to their trees.

Really I need a tree surgeon in. We have three trees that are reaching colossal heights – almost as tall as the houses that we wanted to screen ourselves from. The telescopic pruners are only useful if we can get our hands on a tall ladder, but even then I think it’s a bit precarious. And let’s face it, by looking at my pruning picture and my shoddy work, you can tell I’m no expert at tree pruning either. No, it’s a bit of an art in itself and I either need a very tall ladder and a book, or someone who knows what they’re doing. Either way, it’s more money. Always more money.

But I’m still impressed I’ve managed to tick two things off my list – ‘plant raspberries’ and ‘plant garlic’ (yes, I did!). Rich even spent a backbreaking day and a half digging out (and by digging out, we mean putting the spade in a few inches into soil and rubble) his asparagus bed. He’s boarded the edges and mixed in well rotted manure, and is ready to put in his asparagus – ‘Connover’s Colossal‘ and ‘Purple Giant’. I have a feeling we’re a bit late, as per usual, but what the hell. We’ve got to wait a couple of years at least until we can sample the delights of these plants anyway. That’s if Rich can stop the cats using his asparagus bed as a toxic poo dumping ground for that long. I see him hanging out of the house windows warning them off as they eye up the rich, crumbly, soft soil. I can’t help but snigger.

This weekend, however, I have more plans.

Aside from getting the onions in, I wanted to get a straw bale into my greenhouse and start planting some strawberries in the greenhouse. I think I’m going to experiment this year and see just how many different plants I can bung into one straw bale – strawberries, peppers, It’s a Smallest Smallholding space-saving experiment that will probably F-A-I-L, but I’m tempted to give it a go. I’ll get the bale in first and report as I get going with it.

And for those of you that are interested, my new job seems to be going very well, thanks very much. It’s quite a varied role so far, which is always welcome, and the three day weeks working in an office are AMAZING. For instance, this week I did my Mon-Weds in an office full with a pretty positive and creative atmosphere. I’m using about a quarter of the petrol to get to work, and my average commute time is 25 minutes.

I then worked on my own stuff at my own pace yesterday (Thurs) – took time out to make sure my back wasn’t crumpling – and the same again today. The pains in my back, neck and chest are subsiding. I’m getting more sleep. I’ve got the time and inclination to exercise. And I chose to work my butt off for the last two days because the weather was bad. If it’d been nice, I would have moved my work around. Simple. Flexible. GOOD!

Although, I did have a very minor breakdown a couple of nights ago that involved lots of swearing, crying and mascara smudging. I don’t know where it came from. I suppose I must have been quite tired. It was a sort of a blip of a post-quarter life crisis. Mainly frustration at my freelance work and my usual feelings of inadequacy, competitiveness, failing the high expectations of myself etc etc. It all sounds so rubbish when I write it down. But sometimes I just feel like I work and work and work, and get nowhere, or at least I’m not edging too far forward in getting the work that I *want*. I was told throughout my school career that I could do whatever I wanted, but I never really knew what I wanted to do. But in my teenage ignorance, I always imagined I’d be a success, because school was quite easy, and I was constantly told as much. But success at school and exams and success in real life are completely different beasts.

And things have turned out very different for me. I’m not where I want to be in terms of my career at all. I feel as though I’m trailing and too far down that blasted ‘career ladder’.  Only in the last few years, or even months, have I really discovered the direction that I’d like to go in, and started to believe I can do it. But I guess I’ll just have to be a bit smarter about things, and a bit more go-getting. Stop sitting around weeping about it. Make sure my “bread and butter” work doesn’t become my only work and just go for it.

It’s hard. All this working for yourself lark. I need to sit down and strategise and keep motivated. But I also need to see results this year. I knew when I set out this year that I wanted to achieve quite a lot, but it’s proving quite difficult, especially as the house is crumbling down around my ears, my Smallest Smallholding demands a lot of my time, and I’m trying to take time *out* to exercise and keep healthy… but nobody said it was going to be easy, did they?

At least I got my raspberries in last weekend.

Weight: 11 stones 1lb (watch it go down next week, just you watch!)

Thank You – and an Update on my Veggies

I just wanted to start this post by saying thank you to everybody that left me comments after my last post. I do take the time to read them, and although I may not always reply individually, I am so thankful that there are people out there that take the time to say kind, thoughtful and supportive things. It means a lot. I often read out comments to Rich or phone my Mum to tell her what people have said. It’s partly what my blog is about – sharing my experiences with other people so that they can decide whether doing whatever I do (I guess you could call it a stab at The Good Life) is for them. Whether it’s writing to inspire others, to help people by sharing my experiences, swapping tips and advice, spreading awareness or just providing someone with a bit of mindless ramble to read on their coffee break – it’s the comments that keeps spurring me on to do this.

So thank you to each and every one of you. And thank you also for sharing your experiences too – as henkeepers, united we stand, divided we… eat our eggs!


Yes. Things have been a bit odd around here. The hens were such a focus for me and now it’s a bit strange having all this time where I’m not having to think or worry specifically about something else. I’ve now got the time to go for an evening walk in the nearby woods – we skirt the fields as the sun dips in the sky and then take the main path back through the woodland itself on the way back. The wild bluebells are starting to appear, and yesterday I found some wild garlic growing. I really wanted to plant some in my ‘woodland’ garden but I won’t be taking it from the wild. I need to find a supplier.

Speaking of which, at the weekend, being hen-less I decided I couldn’t just mooch around. So I tried to make the most of some reasonable weather and got sowing. I managed to put in some more onion sets, although one bag had been left out in the warm conservatory and had withered and gone soft. Bah! I also divided up some Cristo garlic cloves and plonked them. OK – I know – completely wrong time of year. But to be honest, if I don’t get them in now, I don’t know when I will.

I also sowed some Autumn King carrot seeds and a parsnip seed blend that Victoriana Nursery Gardens had sent through late last year. I know by now that the parsnips will take what feels like an age to germinate, so I’ve laid a load of chicken wire over the big veggie plot to stop the cats digging and the birds scratching. I WILL keep my seeds in rows this year!

I also mowed…or was taken for a walk by the mower, aka The Beast That Walks. Big job. Crap back. Rich had to take over halfway through.

Then there was the woodland garden seed sowing. I’d bought a woodland seed mixture (ragged robin, oxslip et al) and, running out of daylight, was a bit lazy in my sowing. I roughly raked over some bare soil, sowed the seeds, raked them over again and gave it a quick water. Who knows whether it’ll work. It hasn’t in the past, so I don’t know why I did it again. I’m hoping with perhaps a little more attention (like watering the seeds at least once more) and the fact that many of the plants are suited to dry shade, perhaps Lady Luck will do her thing.

Next on the list is sowing a mountain of sunflower seeds along one of the back borders. We want to encourage bees and hopefully, if we have a good summer, the sunflower heads will provide the birds with some ‘free food’. We’ve got the archetypal Giant individual sunflowers, as well as a dark-red and orange mix that grow around three foot tall. But before I can sow, I’ve got to clear a whole lot of nettles. I hate that job.

So what else?

Early potatoes are starting to get going now, but I’m erring them on to grow faster. Hopping from foot to foot and gesticulating at them and hope they’re taking notice.

My Cosmos are looking leggy because the rabbit keeps going on sitting on my seed trays and making them grow sideways. Rich, please can you make my greenhouse staging now? Cosmos = lots of bees.

Victorinia Garden Nursery’s Calabrese (Cabbage? I can’t remember!) selection are sowed and germinating nicely. Romanesco broccoli have done fantastically well in germination, and primo cabbages are super-fast at growing. Only 5 runnerbeans germinated, but seeing as I don’t really like them, and Rich only likes them raw, I think 5 plants are fine.

The butternut squash have been crap – the packet is a year old and I don’t have a heated propogator, so I reckon its a no-go. I might have another go, but I think I might just give my Mum some seeds and ask her to do the honours. Then later I’ll transplant them into some straw bales (stay tuned for more!).

My leeks look utterly unimpressive – like frail bits of thread, but as it’s early days I’m hoping they’ll come good. I’m also growing rosemary to add to my herb garden…the herb garden that I haven’t even started sowing the rest of my herbs for. Oh geesh. So much still to do.

THEN there’s my assortment of chillis and peppers. These are just growing in the conservatory and being complete buggers. But I seem to do this every year – forget that they too take an age to germinate. Patience, Lucy, patience.

All this food. I just can’t wait to start EATING it! That, I think, is possibly the best part. Or the bit where you pull the carrot/parsnip up and it’s huge and it just smells so good. Or where you take a look at your cabbages and are so surprised by how much they’ve grown in just a few days. Or you come back to the house with a trug stuffed with fresh food for tonight’s dinner. MMmmm.

I’ve still got so much to do, but am fast running out of space. So this is it. this is where I start telling you about my attempts to make the most of less space. This is, after all, the Smallest Smallholding. Even if we do currently lack any bi-ped, feathery residents. Later this year. I promise. After I’ve had a holiday. Good grief, I need a holiday!

Return to the Allotment

I finally managed to get down to the allotment this afternoon. The sun was out, and despite the fact that the frost still hadn’t melted in the shady spots, I thought it was a good opportunity to get down there. Our allotment site is quite exposed; it’s located right on the outer edges of our semi-rural commuter town, only a few minutes walk from my house.  When it’s windy, the wind rips across the site, seldom obstructed due to the lack of hedging, large shrubs and structures. So when it’s cold, it’s really cold.

My wellies are spotty and I love them, but they’ve split on both sides. So despite my pair of tights and two pairs of socks, my feet slowly froze throughout the course of the afternoon. Mental note: must put ‘welly warmers’ on Christmas and birthday list.

The chickweed and fat hen are slowly taking hold in my absence, so I went at them fork and hoe today. From the front, at least, the plot looks passable – we’ve got Radar onions and two beds of leeks on the go at the moment. From the back of our allotment plot, however, it’s a disaster. In an attempt to make it look like I’d at least set foot on there in the past year, I cut back the summer fruiting raspberry canes and hacked down the crisp mummified remains of the sunflowers, which were (almost astonishingly) still standing. The asparagus that we allowed to go to seed over the summer was also cut down. I laid some old carpet over the section of allotment that has been swamped by couch grass – that, I reckon, is at least a couple of days worth of digging there. I hate couch grass. Probably more so than bindweed. And being an organic gardener (which causes me a lot more work, but ultimately more satisfaction!), I refuse to succumb to Rich’s lazy-sort-of-serious-but-wind-up suggestion of “just spray it all with weedkiller YEAH!”

Anyroad, I managed to prepare another bed ready for a session of garlic planting. By the time I’d managed to get it ready, *I* was ready to go home. I couldn’t feel my toes and the sun was sinking fast, so I’ll probably try and head down there in the next couple of days. I don’t know what the garlic I’ve bought is going to turn out like – I think it’s called Cristo? Last year I planted Thermidrome garlic, but it turned out a bit musty tasting. I don’t know whether it’s a result of my slightly sandy soil here at the Smallest Smallholding, my air -drying methods or just the way Thermidrome tastes. But this time I just grabbed what was left on the garden nursery shelf – so Cristo it is! I’ll probably buy some more if I get paid anytime soon, as I could easily eat garlic and onions every day for the rest of my life.