Into the swing of spring – strawberries recovering

Cambridge Favourite strawberry plants

Despite the late, late frosts last month, I’m pleased to see that my tatty strawberry patch is recovering nicely! I picked out the damaged black-eyed strawberry flowers, and crossed everything that the remaining buds weren’t damaged. And although some of the Cambridge Favourite strawberry flowers have opened with black centres, it seems most are A-OK. Phew!

I’ve decided to help my strawberries along a bit this year. Last year I was terrible, neglecting to water or tend to the plants until they pretty much shrivelled up in protest. This year, I’ve started as I intend to go on, giving the plants a little more TLC in the hope that they will flourish… and I’ll get to enjoy a decent crop of fresh, ripe, sun-soaked(!) strawberries.

Growing a successful strawberry crop

Firstly, I can tell you that I will NOT be putting out any kind of slug pellet or slug trap. I’m a live and let live kind of gardener. The only “pellets” I would consider are the wool pellets, but current budget dictates that we’ll have to rely on other wildlife keeping slug numbers at a manageable level! We incur a few losses, but I think we’ve got a good balance here and we don’t have a massive slug or snail problem at all.

Let there be light
It’s said that the best, sweetest tasting strawberries are those that have been sun-soaked. It’s serendipitous that my no-dig strawberry patch gets sun from early morning through to late afternoon. So it’s up to the flighty British summer to sweeten those fruits now.

Mulching & weeding
As we’re currently experiencing some much-needed downpours, the setting fruits will need lifting off the (well-draining) soil, so a mulch of straw should do the trick. You can protect your fledgling fruits from birds with well-pegged down, tight and VISIBLE netting (add CDs or streaming ribbons to aid visibility), or if you’ve a few pennies and saved away, build a fruit cage (again, ensure the netting is visible to wildlife).

This year, with no budget for any kind of fruit cage, I shall be counting on the good grace of my feathered friends, and the fact that there are bird feeders all over the garden… e

Feeding
Mulching and regular weeding will also encourage healthy, vigorous growth, and the plants can be fed an organic liquid potash (potassium rich) feed (like tomato feed). Organic liquid seaweed feed might also help too, but watch the nitrogen content… you want it to be low. It’s also been suggested that homemade dilute liquid comfrey can help boost flavour of the fruits (1 part comfrey liquid to 15 parts water).

I’ve got a general organic kelp mix that I’ve been feeding weekly all over the veg patches, flower borders and fruit cages. The trick is to NOT overfeed or overwater your plants – just a little helping hand can do wonders.

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!)

The best antidote to a grey January afternoon

Well one of my resolutions was to post more on my blog. I’m sorry I haven’t kept up as much as I intended – I managed to break my laptop. And with Rich working morning, noon and night, it’s nigh on impossible to boot him off so I can write.

But here I am.

Ahhh Fridays. I do like Fridays. Now that I’m in the throes of my four-day working week, Fridays are MY day. You know, when the rest of the world isn’t off work. I rise late, I write, I write some more and catch up on getting all those little jobs out of the way; bottlebank, money bank, library, tidying… Today I’m planning on starting another letter. I’ll plonk myself down at some point during the afternoon and scribble away, no doubt accompanied by the background noise of a terrible 70s film on Film4.

My Smallest Smallholding is… well. Hmm. Green and weedy is the most diplomatic way of describing it. Or perhaps ‘slumbering’. Yes, I like that word. After the snow melted it was like an eye-popping explosion of GREEN. Everywhere was bellowing GREEN! GREEN AND BROWN! GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN! The snow also uncovered all the messy bits – the unkempt piles of leaves, twigs, weeds, unpruned shrubbery, wonky veg plot borders etc etc. Whilst the snow laid, at least it looked relatively neat. Ah well. Such is nature. I have a lot of work to do this spring.

My local garden centre does a brilliant deal on seeds at this time of year – 50% off, with many “buy two get one free” offers to. So I am planning on heading over there with an extremely limited budget and starting to thumb through the racks. I’m definitely going for squashes again this year. Although last year’s produce was rubbish, at least I managed to get the plant to actually fruit. So this year, who knows. We may produce something edible – it has been known!

I’m not going for potatoes this year. I call my small bit of England ‘The Smallest Smallholding’ for good reason, and potatoes take up a lot of space. OK, maybe I’ll relent and grow a row or two of Charlottes. They’re fantastic when they’re freshly dug. In fact, I doubt whether Rich will allow me NOT to grow them. But as far as maincrop goes, I can easily buy a big sack from the local farmer for around a fiver.

I asked Rich whether he’d eat strawberries, if I grew them. His response? “Depends if they have maggots in them”. Let me remind you that this year, Rich is 30. Yes, really.

And apart from my staple crop of sunflowers (seeds for the birds), onions and garlic, I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do. I think I’ll decide when I get infront of the seed racks.  I have a feeling that this year, anything goes.

Weight: 11stone 6lbs