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

Sowing, Growing, Mowing

Buds on the Lark Ascending Rose

Buds appearing on the Lark Ascending rose

The sun came out for the first time in what feels like an aeon. The last time it properly showed its face, I was in the office and effectively missed it. It seems though that we’ve finally got over that hump, and we’re well on our way to Spring. I can’t tell you how much happier it’s all making me feel.

I’m still not sure about whether I can kick start the growing properly; temperatures are down overnight, and I’m still having to break the ice in the bird baths in the morning, so I think the soil needs a good fortnight to start warming up properly before I start sowing directly. Having watched Gardener’s World on Friday night, I took Monty’s advice and instead of playing a waiting game and risking losing any more of my onion sets, I decided to plant them into seed modules with compost, and let them begin rooting. I shoved the garlic in too, for good measure. Until we get some mini polytunnels set up, I’m not playing poke-the-garlic-in-pull-it-out-again with the woodpigeons.

red baron onion sets in seed modules

I bought the Red Baron onion sets from my local Gardener’s Association back at the beginning of March (or was it late February?), but they’ve had to stay put in their paper bags. This means many of the sets have gone soft and are useless, but I managed to “sow” about 70% of them. There were a few which were on the verge, but I always seem to be championing the underdog, so I thought I’d at least give them a chance.

I also found a bag of alliums that I’d bought at the beginning of March too. I think at that point I was desperate to just buy something that would make me feel as though spring was upon us. But these little guys had already begun to sprout, so I popped them in the seed trays too until I’ve prepared the patch where they’re going to planted. To be honest, I don’t think the alliums need much – they prefer well-draining soil, and will even thrive in poor soil, but I think ours is virtually sand in some places and I wonder whether it’d be pushing it to expect them to do anything there. I have a couple of Purple Sensation alliums to go in too – can’t wait to see them flower and the bees and pollinators to come knocking.

close up of a dead seed head

So although I’ve been sowing in earnest, there’s still not a lot to show. Spring is more than fashionably late this year (we only did our first little bit of mowing yesterday), but it doesn’t mean that I can rest on my laurels. There is just so much to do – clearing, weeding, soil preparation, ripping up brambles and bindweed. Every year it’s like starting from scratch, but this year, it’s all about progress. I’m more determined than ever to make it work – even if that means just turning one corner into my self-sufficient, wildlife-friendly Smallest Smallholding vision – and for now I’m just sowing the seeds of what I hope will be a successful season of sowing, growing and mowing.

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…