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!)

Chitting Seed Potatoes – Charlotte Again

Oh chit!

Sorry, it had to be done.

Yes, I’ve already started chitting these second early Charlotte potatoes. Actually, I bought them a couple of weeks ago and put them out to chit a few days after. I wanted to improve on last year’s efforts – I bought three or so bags of seed potatoes, proceeded to leave them out for a few weeks and then had to pick my way through a slightly spongey selection to find chittable potatoes.

Am I inventing a whole host of new chit-related verbs? Chitting..chittable. Hmm. Works for me.

Anyhow! My Charlottes have been on the windowsill in the kitchen for a couple of weeks, and already the little sprouts have started stirring. I’m not expecting anything magnificent. After all, the kitchen windowsill is only marginally warmer than our conservatory at the moment. And our unheated greenhouse is currently missing two roof panes, so is a complete no-go area at the moment. But I did struggle a bit last year to get everything in on time, so this year I thought I’d just have a go at getting my second earlies to sprout a little earlier. That’s the plan, anyway. Not that my crop of Charlottes weren’t good last year, they were just perhaps somewhat later than expected. But then I could blame that on the ‘Summer That Wasn’t‘…

But Mum and I have definitely decided not to plant maincrop potatoes at the allotment. Don’t get me wrong. I ADORE potatoes (eating, obv.), possibly more than I should. Especially maincrop ‘fluffy’ varieties like Maris Piper. But from an economical and space point of view, both here at the Smallest Smallholding and on the allotment, I just think that it makes much more sense for me to buy a bag of maincrops for £5 or thereabouts from my local farmer, and dedicate my space to less space-hogging veggies, herbs, salads and fruits. Oh, I don’t know. Sitting here and pondering it, if I manage to dig out another plot here I might use some maincrop potatoes as a first-year weed control scheme. But the fact is is that my back has been dreadful, so I don’t hold out much hope, unless Rich is feeling particularly valiant with a spade. Hah – *snort*.

My back makes me feel about 86, not 26. I went for a big treatment session today, which has left me tired and bruised, but I know it’s one of those ‘no pain, no gain’ scenarios. I’ve been given a whole host of exercises to do, and it’s been suggested that I need to do Yoga at least 3 times a week on top of my swimming. So there goes another reason why I need to get my life more organised and in order. And another GREAT reason why I don’t have to dig. Yes, that’s right. REASON. Not excuse!

Actually, I’ve been researching and writing a short article about straw bale growing (no digging!). Mum tried it a couple of years ago with some tomatoes, but wasn’t too impressed. However, I’ve got a few tips up my sleeve now that I may blog about later, if I get around to giving it a go. Straw bale growing is cheap, which on my 2009 Year of the Low Budget gives it a definite thumbs up. And at the end of it you have a lot of compostable material, which earns it a few brownie points too. So we’ll see.

And an update on the woodland area – one of my local garden centres is currently doing an ‘early bird’  50% off seeds promotion. I found a special wildflower seed mix that featured the likes of ragged robin and harebell. I think you can start sowing in February so I’m definitely going to have a bash, once I get my next invoice in. I did have a scout about for some native woodland species at the nursery, but I’m being far too eager because it’s just too early. This is usually the part of the year where I start to get all wiggly and impatient about the growing year. But if there’s one thing gardening and vegetable growing teaches you, it’s patience. Which is a real pain in the backside when you’re a completely impatient person like me!