Rain and Sunshine

Earlier this week we had a thunderstorm of pretty epic proportions. In fact, I have no shame in admitting that I almost crapped myself a couple of times, thanks to some ear-splitting booms and claps that rolled out of the skies.

Downpours in Bedfordshire

It wasn’t just a show of sound and light though; after a long build up in which the bump and I slowly melted under a fairly oppressive cloud of intense humidity, the heavens opened. The downpours were long and penetrating – just what the veg patches needed – and the Smallest Smallholding has, as expected, gone into overdrive and everything is growing at a rate of knots.

Raspberries, calabrese, parsnips, peas and more in the long patch

Raspberries, calabrese, parsnips, peas and more in the long patch

My onions and perennial wallflowers were the only plant life that took a beating from the storm, whilst everything else has thrived with a heady combination of hot days and squally showers. Another benefit of this mix of sunshine and rain is that the soil is virtually fluffy, so weeds (even the mile-long tap roots of thuggish alkinet) are so easy to pull. This, together with my no dig approach, has meant that keeping on top of the veg patches has been so easy.

Bumble bee enjoying a geranium

So it’s the first week of June and the veg is romping away, the roses are blooming and the Smallest Smallholding is just so full. This time of year is so invigorating. Armies of honey bees and fat bumblebees are jigging and rubbing themselves with tangible glee all over our geraniums, lavender, foxgloves, toadflax and alliums. The fledged blackbirds are out in force, and the hedgehogs are resolutely on slug duty at night. I’m having a battle of wills with an undisclosed feathered or furry critter who keeps pulling out my strawberry plants (two miserable looking plants have survived) and it’s all a bit wild and out of control… and when I stand back and look… there’s still so, so much to do.

But do you know what? It’s totally OK. It’s keeping me busy, occupied, and dare I say it… happy.

Podding peas

And in three weeks I shall be on maternity leave. Yes, we have a list of things as long as my arm to do in the house before my due date, including some significant renovations and decorating, but I can’t keep my mind off my vegetable patches, my borders, my plans for everything.

I should be worried, I should be brimming with anxiety and how the hell I’m going to cope with the weeks and months ahead. The state of the house should have me wringing my hands and raging. But somehow, my garden is taking that energy and channelling it into something positive. Something I can build on in the future, and something I can make good with.

Early pea flowers

Growing squashes for Autumn

Knucklehead pumpkin growing in September

Knucklehead pumpkin

This year I was given a selection of squashes to grow by Marshalls Seeds, and whilst I’m still trying to find a way to use up all the courgettes, the other cucurbits are also romping away. The happiest of all is my Knucklehead Pumpkin plant, which has now grown to about 7 or 8 metres long and is producing two large fruits. Well, that’s two fruits that I can see as the vine has scrambled its way across the scrubby area by the compost bins. There could be more lurking.

The knucklehead pumpkin is yet to start going orange or knobbly… but I’m hoping that by mid to late October we’ll have a lovely pumpkin to harvest for pies, soup and all sorts of autumnal foodie treats.

Munchkin pumpkins

Munchkin pumpkins growing up the arch

And on the arch – my biggest, bestest bargain of this year – nestling amongst the flowering Spanish Flag, my munchkin pumpkins from Sarah Raven are also starting to fruit. Although it’s fairly late in the year for the vines to be producing flowers, I’m hopeful that they’ve got a lot of growing left in them and we’ll have more than just a small handful of the impossibly cute and pretty mini pumpkins for harvesting this year. I’ve counted about ten flowers and buds so it’s a game of wait and see… not sure the persistent damp conditions and lack of warm autumn sunshine will help my cause though…

Funnily enough, the sunniest side of the arch has been swamped by the Spanish Flag climbing vines, so the munchkin pumpkin plants have struggled to compete. On the less sunny side that faces to the east, the munchkin pumpkins are thriving. Something to bear in mind next year as I’ll most definitely be going for a Spanish Flag-munchkin pumpkin combo again. It’s been my little crowning glory this year.

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and climbing Munchkin pumpkins

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and Munchkin pumpkins

Spring Clean Begins Here

purple crocus

A few days ago I started prepping the veg plots for spring – cutting down our Autumn fruiting raspberries, taking out runners, turning the soil over, – just forking through the detritus of autumn and winter before Spring arrives. If it arrives. I didn’t get too far with the preparations – if truth be known, I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I’m somewhat of a fair-weather gardener and vegetable grower, and it has been bitterly cold here for weeks. So not a lot has been done over the winter at all. I have done some shopping though… there’s something very satisfying about building a larder of seed packets and bulbs for the next growing season.

But despite the weather forecasters warning that this cold spell is set to continue into March, I’m trying to steel myself and get on with getting my house (or Smallest Smallholding) in order before spring arrives. Daffodil shoots and crocuses are poking through, the days are perceptibly longer, and the blackbirds are staying up in the evenings to sing – all of which gives me hope that the new season is much closer than it feels right now. I’ve had my fill of long, dark evenings. I crave the warmth of the sun on my skin, and when its out and shining, I feel revived again.

What doesn’t help matters is that the jobs that we need to get on top of before Spring are neither interesting or particularly motivating. The greenhouse needs repairing after three panels were smashed during the recent windy spell, and my greenhouse needs gutting, cleaning and organising before I start the new sowings. That is a job I would gladly pay someone else to do. We want to get a new compost heap up and running as our current one is overflowing, and then there’s the usual weeding, digging, soil conditioning. None of which I am inclined to feel like doing when my hands and feet are numb with cold (bad circulation), my hair is stuck to my face due to persistent drizzle (long hair), and my feet are clod with mud (big feet). Le sigh. Yes, winter, I’ve had enough of you. Please leave soon.

So for now, I’m starting a spring clean inside the house. Turning out clothes that have sat in my wardrobe for a couple of years untouched, getting rid of ridiculously high shoes that I can’t wear for more than 10 minutes without acute pain. In the utility room, getting rid of those tins of paint that have gone hard, rusty tools – all the bits that for some reason, we keep hold of, but  never use. All that can be sent to the charity shop and recycling centre will find their way there. We try to minimise what goes to landfill.

Part of my pre-spring prep has also involved I’m also on the lookout for a small but sturdy steel or aluminium-framed polytunnel to fix in over one of the plots – but having just forked out for my self assessment tax bill, and with a payment on account looming in July, I’m having to watch the pennies very closely. So there’s no telling whether that particular plan will come into fruition this season. Let’s hope so. I’ll keep researching and let you know how it goes.