T-Shirts in Late Autumn

After working eight days straight I finally had a day off to myself last week, and what a day it was! I can’t quite believe that November here and I’ve been out *sweating* in a t-shirt and leggings in the garden! The sun is still warming the earth and some of my spring flowers are a little confused, and I’m not surprised.

Still, it’s given me a chance to do some catching up. The heleniums, echinacea, lavender and crocosmia have all been cut back now, and the compost heap has been filled with the remnants of summer and early autumn flower beds, asparagus tops, lawn clippings and shrub prunings. Of course there’s still so much more to do but I have the feeling that this year, we’ve just about kept on top of things ahead of the big winter sleep.

Raspberries in november

The summer raspberries are even still fruiting, with a few canes hanging on for dear life, determined to produce some last jewelled berries before the frosts set in. And in the veg plots, I have two squashes that are still swelling in size. The pumpkin seems to have had a bit of a renaissance, suddenly producing lots of lush green foliage and surging its way up the wire mesh I’ve provided as a climbing frame. The butternut squash looks less healthy, and seems to be pouring all its energy into the single fruit that remains on the vine.

I can’t quite remember a late October like this, and it’s been very therapeutic to just work out in the sunshine below a china blue sky. I have a feeling it could be the last sunny, warm and cloudless day we’ll see for quite a long time and I am so glad I wasn’t stuck inside all day missing it.

But there is still so much to do at The Smallest Smallholding before we start winding down for winter. Here’s what’s ahead:



Dormant tree ready for planting

Planting trees
We still have two apple trees to plant and another to find to ensure that we have fertile collection of trees for next year! Late autumn and winter is a great time to get trees and large shrubs in the ground. As long as you can get a spade in, you should be fine to plant.

autumn leaves for leaf mould

Gather leaves for leafmould & clean leaves out of the pond
With plenty of windy weather of late, there are lots of leaves to collect. Leaves can take quite a long time to break down amongst other compostables so leaf litter can be gathered and kept moist but not waterlogged in a container or bag to create crumbly leafmould for conditioning the soil in borders and veg plots. A purpose built leaf litter bin is great if you have lots of leaves to contend with, but for smaller gardens an old compost bag with breathing holes or a leafmould bag bought online should suffice. If you have a pond, make sure to regularly remove any leaves from the pond surface and cut back any marginal plants to avoid decay in the water. More advice for pond maintenance and water gardening here! Don’t be too tidy – leave a few leaves on the ground for wildlife as leaves are great nesting material and cover.

Mulch the veg plots
Autumn is a great time to dress your soil with at least a couple of inches of organic compost or well-rotted manure. In autumn, the soil is still warm enough so the worms will rise up and access the new material. Then over winter the weather will also help to break down any lumps in the compost or organic matter, and in spring the mulch can be raked in. NO need to dig!

Last chance to mow & cut hedges
Luckily we kept on top of our hedges this year and as the days have shortened, the hedges have stopped growing so we’re ready for winter! We now have lovely dense hedging that will help keep the birds and wildlife protected in the bitter winter winds and temperatures. But if you’re a bit behind then October in particular is a great month to get those last cuts done before winter. The unseasonably warm weather has meant that we’re still mowing but soon it’ll be your last chance saloon before the ground gets too wet!

Divide perennials and rhubarb crowns
Our heleniums exploded this year so we’ve got lots of dividing to do into new beds this autumn – free plants! Summer flowering perennials can be divided round about now – this includes our salvia, sedum, verbena, agapanthus and geraniums. With the soil still warm it’s a great time to get your flower beds laid out and really for spring, and in the veg plots the rhubarb crown can also be divided. Just get rid of any decayed or weak crowns, and then using a spade divide the crown at the root and replant.

Finances, Greenhouse Staging and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Well I’ve gone and done it. After three or more years of waiting for Rich to have the time and inclination to build my greenhouse staging, I bit the bullet and ordered some online, just to get me started. It’s three tier staging – 4ft long and 2ft wide and about a third of the total staging I need, but it’s all I can afford (well, I can’t even afford that at the moment) right now. But hey ho, when needs must. And I really really need it this year to get me growing properly. I didn’t want to fill up our conservatory with seedlings that get zapped in the intense heat in there.

So there. It’s a UK company, and it should arrive early next week. And I can do a little bit of rejoicing.

But back to business. And I kind of mean, literally business. If you remember, one of my resolutions that I made earlier this year was to tackle my debt. A lot of this is credit card debt, the sum of which is a result of irresponsible spending, lack of income and more stupidity, a means to an end when at uni and unable to work due to crippleness from working hours on computers (long-time readers will understand the problems I’ve had), all spread over 10+ years of trying to make my way in the world. It’s a horrible big black hole that sucks your earnings, but it’s mostly my fault (although I will lay a little blame on credit card companies that up their APR by 10% with little warning) and it’s just the (heavy) price I have to pay for relying on credit for so long.

I’ve made a spreadsheet of the balance of what I owe on each card, what I’m paying each month, when it’s paid and the interest I’m paying. I managed to switch one card onto a 0% interest card which will help hugely. I’m determined to beat this debt. Thing is, it’s really hard when I’m simultaneously saving up for next year’s tax bill. But there we are, I can’t complain really. It’s my own doing and I’ll just have to live with it until it’s paid off.

In the meantime, my spending is under much tighter control. I’ve never been particularly good with money. I tend to forget how much I’ve spent and then bury my head in the sand and deal with it later. But as I’ve got older, wiser, or just more world-weary I’ve come to realise that this strategy is, of course, a lot of pants and that I need to be much more organised. So I’m reigning in the spending and although Rich and I still have to live a little, things like non-essential clothes and books (waahhh!) and wotnot are on hold. Or at least, I have to work out if I can really really really afford them.

OK, so the greenhouse staging cost me over £80, plus delivery. But I reckon that’s an investment – it’ll last for years (hopefully), I’ll be able to use it to grow my food, and maybe if I sell a few plants out the front, even make a little money back on it. I’ve been seriously fed up with losing plants because the growing conditions in the conservatory aren’t right and I feel like it would be stupid to go yet another year making the same mistakes and getting the same results.

But that’s enough bleating about my finances. I’ve got a LOT of work to be getting on with in the Smallest Smallholding. I only just got around to pruning my Autumn fruiting Polka raspberries (although, last year they fruited for MONTHS on end, fantastic!) under the direction of my mother. It’s good to learn from books but nothing beats practical demonstration. I still have a big buddleia to prune back, and the trees… oh the trees… I think we’ve missed the boat this year on getting them pruned but I might just chance it. The sycamore is a beast and I’ve been posting on the Self-Sufficientish forum for some advice. Seems they’re virtually indestructible so we might give it a go, and then perhaps if it dies plant something a little less thuggish in its place. Birch, maybe.

This weekend I have got to get a few things sown – leeks and more garlic mainly. Between us, Mum and I have a ridiculous amount of seed as we have a penchant for going mental when there’s 50% off. Growing space is definitely going to be a challenge this year but I’ve decided that the flower borders can give way to some veg. I think I may have to get some special growing bags or large pots to house garlic, onions, potatoes and the like. I’m going to get a couple of straw bales in for tomatoes and squash, and then of course there’s the hanging baskets for strawberries and more tomatoes.

Geesh, I’m excited about it all. But still slightly “ARGH!!!” because after a wander around the garden and plots yesterday it’s dawning on me how much I have to do; especially since we’ve vowed to get the overgrown wasteland at the bottom of the garden (where the soil is virtually sand-like) turned into a Mediterranean bee/butterfly/insect-friendly eating area. And then there’s the house.

But you know, I’ll just keep rolling with it and do what I can do. It’s not a competition. And I have my permaculture book to re-read. After all, the Smallest Smallholding is going to be under management, not a dictatorship!

Clearing, weeding, planting, mulching, sowing, clearing, weeding, clearing, clearing, clearing is what’s on the agenda for the next month or so. Spring is definitely on its way, although the wind still bites and I’m not out of my thermal vest just yet. But the crocuses are up, the daffodils are looking promising and everywhere I see buds. Buds!

It feels like it’s been a long slog of a winter, but I’m just as prepared for a long slog of a growing season. But I mean that in a good way!

Unpublished Friday post

Harry Potter themed birthday bash - me as Luna Lovegood, Mel as Moaning Myrtle, Kylie as Lily (sans freaky baby Harry Potter) and Martha as Ginny

Harry Potter themed birthday bash - me as Luna Lovegood, Mel as Moaning Myrtle, Kylie as Lily (sans freaky baby Harry Potter) and Martha as Ginny

I wrote this on Friday but didn’t get around to publishing it as I was cooking dinner and doing a thousand things at once… and didn’t want to delete it today. Just an update of where I’m at 🙂


Friday night and I’m sitting here with a glass of Bailey’s in hand, chilling out to some (i)Tunes and desperately trying to think of something intellectual/reflective/insightful/interesting to write. Hmmm. Give me a few minutes.

Last week I went on a trip to see my lovely friend Amy in Ireland. It was her birthday, and having survived the scariest plane landing of my life, I went on to enjoy an all-too-brief but fun stay at her house. Saturday evening was her birthday party dinner, and although I couldn’t bring a dish, I did bring myself and my lovely yellow dress which doubled as a Luna Lovegood costume. We’re all nuts about Harry Potter you see, so it made sense to use the occasion as an excuse to dress up. Mel (check out Mel’s blog here) and Kylie concocted some truly amazing cocktails for the occasion from scratch, the champion of which had to be the chocolate cauldron. To make chocolate cauldrons you will need:

  • A jar of Nutella
  • Some Ice
  • Kahlua
  • Baileys

“Pour a lot of Baileys and Kahlua into a blender. Add ice. Add three-four heaped tablespoons of Nutella and blend. Pour. Drink.”


After some impromptu Riverdancing during which I obtained a heel injury by jumping on the edge of the fire hearth, some gratuitous balloon fun, crooning and a late-night pyjama gathering, it was the morning and I had to dash to get the plane home. I was a disorganised mess. I’d lost my boarding ticket and had to pay Ryanair 40 Euro for them to scribble some words on a scrap of paper to give me passage through Irish airspace. Nightmare.

I arrived home and crashed into my bed and slept and slept and slept.

You see, I’ve been doing a lot of that, lately. Sleeping. Feeling sleepy. Wanting to sleep. I was warned by the doctor that this could happen after my flu, and so earlier this week I invested in some Berocca tablets to try and give me the boost to get me back on my feet properly. I just haven’t felt right since I got the flu… as though my thoughts and intentions are swimming around my head and aren’t processing properly. I’m even more clumsy than usual, can’t seem to finish my sentences or be particularly coherent, and I’ve really been struggling just on a day to day basis. So for now, I’m on a healthy eating plan, taking my Berocca, trying to get early nights and just trying to claw my way back to normalcy.

I was throughly chuffed to finally get my greenhouse roof fixed. I’m so excited about the prospect of having a fully functioning greenhouse this year – it just gives me so many more growing options and hopefully will make a huge difference. I don’t know why I didn’t address it sooner and allowed the greenhouse to stand broken for such a long time. Actually, I do know. Finances. I never felt as though I could allow myself to invest the money into sorting it out, and it niggled and niggled until I finally saw sense. Feels good. I love just eliminating all those annoying jobs that make your life that little bit easier. For instance, we have tiny nail heads poking out of the doorframe into the conservatory, where the door seal has come away from the frame. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve walked past and snagged my clothes on these nail heads, but for at least three or four years have done nothing about it. Today I finally picked up a hammer and whacked them back into place and ta da! No more snagged clothes to be irritated by.

It really is the small things in life.

Very sad and very gratifying at the same time – haha!