Seed Sowing in March

This post was written earlier this week – sorry about the delay!

I’ve had to swap my days at work this week because at 4am on Monday morning, I was wide awake with a dodgy back that spasmed and would not let me rest. At 28, this is a muscular problem that I’ve lived with for years and, if I’m honest, really pisses me off. I get osteopathy, I stretch, I’m now building core strength at the gym, but it’s still getting me. And so early in the growing season, too. Pah. Well, all I can do is keep stretching, keep building my back and core strength and hopefully, one day, I won’t have to (mis)manage it so carefully.

Last Friday and Saturday I spent in and out of London, riding on the Tube, battling crowds, and seeing friends. The seeing friends part was great, but London just doesn’t really *do* anything for me anymore. I used to think it was busy and exciting and full of cultural wonders. OK, I concede there’s a lot to see there – we went to Borough Market and there were some great food stalls there, and I do enjoy the museums – but… I wouldn’t want to be in the thick of it. I’m just not a crowded place kind of person. It’s been a bit of a revelation for me because so many of my school friends have moved there (we’re only about 50 mins away from central London on the train), and in the back of my mind I always wondered what I was missing out on. If I’d make a mistake in not moving there with them, being a part of that whole scene.

But even after two days of being in and out of central London, east London, west London… I just think, geesh, I couldn’t be there every day. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s this feeling that you just have to keep going because you can’t stop, there just isn’t time and you’ll get in the way. Then there’s noise. And stuff. And people everywhere. No downtime. And then this feeling of competition and fighting your way out because you don’t want to be sucked into a big, faceless crowd.

Man. I just couldn’t be bothered with it, you know? Give me a field, or a beach any day. So I guess that’s good. No more regrets about “what could have been”. OK, so it might be different if you only live a stone’s throw from a hip little artisan market or wotnot, and you only have to do two stops on the tube to get home and relax. But my word, was I yearning for peace. And strangely, I really wanted to be on a beach and see the sea. Probably the London smog boggling my brain.

So apart from copious amounts of travelling and catching up with good friends, I’ve also been starting to tackle the stupendous amount of clearing, tidying, sowing and so forth that is piling up. Sunday afternoon, I decided to take my laptop to the bath* and catch up on Monty’s return to Gardener’s World. I will just say that it is SO good to have him back. He said something along the lines of “this time of year is so busy, with clearing up after winter and sowing”, and I thought “YES MONTY! Thank YOU! I KNOW! It really is!”.

Monty knows, you see. He really does. It was like being handed a pass that says “we know there’s so much to do, but you know, it’s fine”. Probably like a lot of other amateur gardeners and veg growers, I guess that I don’t do things by the book. Classic example – my second lot of garlic that I bought weeks ago still isn’t in, but I’ll wing it, because things usually turn out OK. I might harvest things a bit later and mess it up a bit, but I usually come away with something. And for instance, on GW, Monty said that really, his apple tree pruning should have been done by now, but he still did it anyway. As and when. Just go with it. I don’t think nature is as rigid, unbending and unforgiving as some gardening books would have us believe.

In terms of stuff that I’ve done, I’ve done precious little but clearing (it’s the ‘getting rid of’ part that is proving the most time-consuming, laborious task), with a whole lot more clearing to do. Veg plots are taking priority at the mo, and then I’ll tackle the other big clearing jobs. More on this another time.

Seed sowing has started, although I have much, much more to do – thank goodness that my brand spanking new greenhouse staging arrived – because I really don’t know what I would have done this year without it!

Here’s what I’ve sown thus far:

Believe me, there is so much more sowing that I need to do. Hopefully my back will stop being silly soon, because this year if all goes to plan, you’re in for a treat!

*There’s a handy ledge away from the bath water where the laptop sits safely – don’t worry, it’s fine!

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!

Ready, Steady, Blow!

Batten the hatches!

It’s REALLY windy today. At least my new greenhouse panes are still in situ though – hurrah (above is a picture of me trying very hard to get the pane to fit).

I should be rattling through some freelance work at the moment, but the truth is, it’s gone 10am and I’m propped up in bed under my duvet and blanket, flanked by a snoring cat, nursing a sore throat after a rubbish night’s sleep disturbed by rattling and banging (in the house, not in my throat!). Since the flu I just haven’t been able to shake this slightly itchy, sore, irritated throat so I think I’m going to have to go back to the doctors. Of course, I looked it up on the Internet and it could be any number of very scary, very horrible things. I don’t know why I try and self diagnose. I always end up scaring myself witless.

So hopefully it’s just something very simple and very bland that can be treated easily.


Last week I tried a natural shampoo recipe that had been hailed by a journalist as a wonder product that would leave my hair strong and shiny. It was a simple recipe – one tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda mixed with 2 tablespoons of water. I thought I’d give it a go as I’d very much like to reduce the number of synthetic chemicals I use, and this seemed like a viable option.

To be honest, I don’t think this journalist has ever used this recipe (I’m pretty sure he was actually lacking in the hair department), because it WRECKED MY HAIR. I knew it wouldn’t lather, thanks to a lack of that oft-maligned ingredient sodium laureth sulfate, and at first it actually felt like quite a nice exfoliating treatment. I rinsed it off and left off the conditioner just to see if it did leave my hair lovely and shiny. It did not.

No, my hair was a tangled mess that knotted when left unbrushed for a few minutes, felt dry, rough and very stiff. I applied a tiny amount of olive oil, which did help with the condition, but it still hung in stiff strands and lacked any of its normal shine.

Generally, my hair is in pretty good condition despite the fact that I regularly blow dry and straighten it (my hairdresser is quite surprised by this), so I tried it again with conditioner and it still did not work at all. I’ve no doubt that it *cleaned* my hair… but it was just too harsh. It made my scalp even worse and my hair hung stiffly, as if I’d applied a lot of hairspray or been swimming in the sea and left it to dry. It just looked dull and was for all intents and purposes quite unmanageable.

To be fair, Poppy over at A Life Less Simple did give me a few pointers as she thinks that the bicarb can affect pH levels of your hair, which can be re-addressed. She suggested putting cider vinegar in the rinsing water, and said that she uses a mix of old tea, vinegar and bicarb for her hair. I didn’t get around to putting her suggestions into action, but I might give it a go again… I’m a little wary though as it took my hair a good three or four days plus a hot oil treatment to get back into shape. Although I’m not preoccupied more than most with my looks, I am a bit precious about my hair because it’s one of the few things that I’m content with.

I don’t know, maybe I’ll give it another go with a different recipe. There’s a lot out there and obviously I need something moisturising for the ends and gentle on my scalp. We’ll see.

In other news, I’ve been madly buying up vegetable and herb seeds, and so far have far too many for my allocated home growing space, but I’m still not finished yet. I’ll find a way to fit it all in. I haven’t really looked at buying in flower seeds yet, as I’m preoccupied with finding space for edible produce, which may have to grow in spaces in the borders. I think as long as I’m able to grow lots of nectar rich plants in between my shrubs and veg, I’ll be happy with that. Incidentally, thanks to some recommendations on my Smallest Smallholding Facebook page, I’ve now purchased Permaculture in a Nutshell and will be interested to find out what changes I can make.

Aside from starting my potatoes chitting, I haven’t sown anything as yet. I’m itching to get growing and get out there, but it’s just not *quite* the right time. Some stuff can be started off early, and if I was any kind of good lifer, I’d be attending to my winter produce right now, but I’m a slighty scatty, decrepit young lady and it hasn’t worked out like that so far (although, I have an inkling we’re going to have one last cold snap before spring). I think it’s forecast to piddle down all weekend, but now that my greenhouse is fixed I feel a bit more cajoled to get on and sow a few bits and pieces and make a very rudimentary start. That’s if the greenhouse doesn’t get blown away in the meantime…