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 on a shoestring budget

Spring Border
As Spring arrives… sort of, between the grey and rain… I’m well aware that my maternity leave is approaching. And although I should have saved hundreds of pounds in preparation, the reality is that I know it’s going to be a tough slog getting through those months on statutory pay. So everything I’m doing now is in preparation for the leaner months, and I’m thinking about ways in which I can do things on a shoestring budget. Getting as much veg, herbs and fruit bushes in the ground now should help over the summer and autumn months at least.

I don’t mind doing things a little Heath Robinson… I remember watching The Darling Buds of May and loving Ma and Pa Larkin’s slightly rambling setup. And besides, I’m not a tidy person. Everything I do is always a little rough around the edges and that suits me – and the wildlife in my garden, I suspect – absolutely fine.

Last year I grew some lettuces in the big veg patch, and they were delicious… and weirdly enough, we had no slug issues. This year, I bought some bargain lettuce plugs from my local plant nursery and decided to pot them up by the back door in easy reach of the kitchen. I found a few old pots hanging about (who doesn’t have masses of pots hanging around?) and tried to use up as many large pots as possible. The bigger the pot, the less watering. I ended up having to use a range of sizes, but to be honest, with the amount of rain we’ve had watering isn’t my biggest issue right now.

lettuces in container

I placed them in a little spot in front of the conservatory that gets light for at least two thirds of the day in summer. It was looking completely ramshackle so I tidied it up and cobbled together a platform for the pots from some bricks and large slate tiles that we had to hand. Something I’ve learned over the years is that we can’t have anything like pots in direct contact with the ground, otherwise the black and red ants that love our sandy soil just move in.

I’m hoping to turn the slightly redundant space outside the back door and before the garden gate into a growing space. One side is really shady thanks to a privet hedge and and next door’s terraced housing access path. But I’ll just have to do a little research and figure out which herbs and plants will be fine in shade, and what I can fill up the sunny side with too. I’m quite looking forward to it, and doing it all on a tiny, almost non-existent budget seems like a fun challenge! She says. I’ll keep you posted…