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

New Garden Tools

In my week off, the weather was very kind. For the most part, there were long sunny intervals, and a few short but heavy shower bursts to keep the ground sufficiently moist. Great news for our crops but it also means that the weeds and grass need tending to much more regularly. At the moment we’re in a bit of a middle ground where we’re doing lots of shifting around, digging out and preparation, so there has been quite a lot of bare earth around. As many of you will no doubt already know, bare earth is a breeding ground for weeds. Whilst I don’t mind a few flowering weeds and we’re far from neat, tidy and sterile, we do need to keep on top of things. Lots of weeding, pruning and cutting back.

Recently Presentsformen.co.uk asked if I would like to sample a couple of their gardening products. Whilst I am clearly (I hope) not a man, there were plenty of gardening bits and pieces for me to try out (pretty much all of them, with anyone and everyone able to do gardening of one sort or another). With so many ‘maintenance’ type jobs to do around The Smallest Smallholding, I decided to put on my practical hat and try out a Burgon & Ball handheld razor hoe and a barrow bag.

Originally I thought the razor hoe was for cutting down small crops – much like a scythe – but actually, you can use it in a drawing motion under the soil to uproot and get rid of annuals and some perennial weeds really easily. We have a few problem spots with nettles – the ground is really hard and compacted and the nettle roots strong, so digging them out by hand is a nightmare. The razor hoe makes it much easier to get in and under the roots. And if left unchecked, even on an innocuous bit of open ground our sandy soil quickly forms a hard crust and becomes quickly colonised with weeds, so hoeing regularly is a must when the soil needs to be kept bare (not for long – polytunnel plans!). I find it very difficult to dig with a fork and use a long handled hoe because of my back problems, but surprisingly using a handheld razor hoe has been very easy! It makes short work of compacted soil and uproots annuals easily by loosening the soil quickly around the roots:

The sharp blade breaks up the soil as you drag it through. In stubborn areas like the nettle bed where the roots are virtually cemented into the hard soil, I use the razor hoe to firstly hook up the roots and then, if needed, cut through them to pull up the larger root systems in sections. I’ve already managed to keep a path into what will be my wildlife pond area mostly clear and – shock – because I’m making good progress on finally removing the roots, I think I may be actually clearing it once and for all. In the past I’ve only have the time and inclination to chop down the top growth, only for the new growth to come through only a matter of weeks later.


The second product I opted for was a barrow bag that increases the volume of the wheelbarrow. It unfolds and sits inside the barrow, making the sides taller so that you can transport more to the compost bins. This has been really handy as we have several hedges and large plots that have needed a bit overhaul (ie lots of green matter for the compost bins). The bag seems tough and durable, and folds down nicely afterwards so it’s easy to store, and great for lazy bums like me who don’t want to be wheeling back and forth to the compost bins all the time! It also has two handles so it can be easily lifted out of the barrow, into the boot of our car and taken to the green waste containers at the the tidy tip. It took me a couple of days to fill up the barrow bag, and I think it pretty much doubles the wheelbarrow’s capacity at least. Very handy and highly recommended!

With Spring in my Step

Last night I sat swathed in my dressing gown, slouched across the sofa, having just had a long and relaxing bath. I’d been soaking my aching muscles in the hot, lavender-scented water after a long, satisfying day of Being Productive.

Since I went back to work after Christmas, I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up on myself. Usually I like to make the most of my weekends. But for some reason I felt inclined to laze around, or have bursts of doing ‘something’ – anything to feel as though I hadn’t just slobbed about. I felt like I just needed to rest, and it was as if I’d given myself permission to lie in, and wander around in my pyjamas for most of the day.

Not yesterday though. After getting my hair (and feeling so much better for it), I came home and flew around the house being a Domestic Goddess, sucking up the ten tonnes of fluff that had accumulated since the vacuum cleaner’s last outing, and generally getting all the shitty jobs (quite literally, in some cases) like cleaning the cat trays out and changing the bins out of the way. I did it all in a mad whirlwind of speed and skill because I Just Wanted To Get Outside.

It was milder than it had felt in weeks. The watery sun was throwing a welcoming warmth – warmth! – onto my skin. It felt good. I plonked each of the rabbits outside to ‘free range’ under my supervision whilst I got all of my tools out of the shed. And methodically, therapeutically and satisfyingly, I worked through my veg plots, turning the crumbly soil over, extracting the weeds, cutting the edges straight. I wasn’t aware of how long it took me, only of the fact that it was something I’d been aching to do for a long time.  Bobbin Robin sat in the hedge, eyeing me as I worked, piping his faint melody every once in a while, obviously impatient for me to move onto the next task.

And so I did. Next job – my mini woodland garden.

It’s tiny. It’s literally a small patch under the damson and apple trees that, in summer, is in shade for most of the day until the late afternoon when the sinking sun lights it up in a blaze of glory. In spring, when the fruit trees are budding, it gets a fair amount of sunlight and stays relatively moist, so is perfect for planting woodland plants.

But last year I neglected it somewhat, allowing the grass, bindweed and nettles to take over. With my wild daffodils and crocuses starting to poke through already, I had work carefully. It was a nice change from the more heavy-handed vegetable patch work. Almost like a different discipline. I cleared space around my emerging forget-me-nots, the wild primos

e, the oxalis and something else that I planted last year, but can’t remember the name of, or what it looks like exactly. We’ll find out soon enough.

As the afternoon sun sank quickly, the temperature rapidly dropped and I herded my rabbits back inside. I felt so satisfied – my veg plots just need some nutrition and I’m ready to go. I do still need to get some proper edging to stop the grass continually creeping in, and so I can also build the plots up with lots of gorgeously rich, crumbly home-made compost and leafmould. But it’s another step forward. At the moment I have time to do this. It’s so incredibly important to me.

After a quick cuppa and stop-off at Mum and Dad’s, I fired up the steamer and set about stripping more wallpaper off our dining room walls. I only have one wall left to do, and the ceiling, and we’re ready to start prepping the room properly for re-decoration. Steps forward. Good.

I should explain. For the past few years I’ve been embarrassed about the state of our home and my Smallest Smallholding. I haven’t felt as though I can have friends around. I’ve felt quite isolated because of it.  I don’t allow anyone outside of the family through the door. We hide from the electricity meter man because we just don’t want anyone to witness what we live in day-to-day. The house is a half-baked renovation job, and the Smallest Smallholding has, for the past couple of years, been out of control.

But I want my friends to visit, and to be able to stay over. I want to welcome people into my home. I want to have friends and family over on warm summer’s evenings. So this year, I’m sure as hell going to try and get closer to being able to do that. Sharing my Smallest Smallholding, getting people encouraged, involved, excited about what I do – that, for me, would be an achievement.

Oh, and incidentally, I have a new job. It’s an exciting prospect. Things are going to be changing, for the better, I think. But more about that next time… I’ll write soon… stay tuned…

Weight: 11 stones 5lb (oops)