Woodland wandering

Woodland light

Sacred light in the woodland

“I sit beside the fire and think
Of all that I have seen
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair…

– J.R.R. Tolkien

Last Sunday was a glorious day. Mum, Rich and I took ourselves out for an amble amongst the crisp autumn leaves, exploring our local Wildlife Trust site. The ancient woodland area is like a little secret, tucked away on a sandy ridge with unexpected heather heaths and dense gorse mixed with birch, beech and chestnut trees. It feels like taking a step back in time when we visit, like stepping into an alternative world that sits quietly next to our busy, modern and noisy one.

Woodland in autumn

It was lunchtime when we took our walk and the sun was already sinking in the sky. But the effect was startling and beautiful, as the ‘sacred light’ shone through the tangled boughs and rusty autumn leaves. Squirrels were still burying acorns below the rows of lime trees, which looked stoic and majestic in all their autumn glory.

Lime trees in autumn

These kinds of days are amongst my favourite sorts of days, along with the first truly warm days of spring. I just love experiencing the different seasons that we’re so fortunate to have here in England. Soon we’ll be enveloped in winter, when the garden goes to sleep and hours of daylight are even more precious.

For me, a wander in nature, when it’s at its most magnificent, is just the best kind of food for the soul.

A carpet of autumn leaves

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…).

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!