A couple of years back we built a vegetable patch. It’s six areas with a path connecting them all. It took a while to build and all the slabs were laid on a dry mix concrete base. In order to keep the weeds down, a dry mix was also brushed into the gaps between each slab. The idea is that it goes naturally, a bit like a bag of cement left in the shed. The damp seeps in and it sets.
The problem is, it never did set. In fact, it just kind of turned into a sandy base into which the weeds moved with relish. So, if at first you don’t succeed and all that. In the odd nice day we have had recently, I have pulled out all the weeds and dug out the sand. All the gaps were then filled with a wet mix of concrete. Hopefully, that will set good and hard and keep the weeds out.
Of course, the weeds are invading the vegetable areas at quite a pace, but well that’s all part and parcel of growing veggies.
While the flower beds along the house and the meadow at the entrance are all looking great (summer at auchenstroan), the flower bed the other side of the lawn has always been a bit of an eyesore. Most of the plants were, according to Nicole, a mish mash, in the wrong place; Crocosmia, Yellow Loosestrife, Solomon’s seal and Hostas. In amongst these, Ground Elder, Bindweed and Willow Herb had taken over. With me otherwise occupied trying to rescue some veggies (veggies version 2), it was left up to Nicole to clear the bed.
Working as a gardener and fairly busy right now, Nicole fitted this in around her work. It was a large task and took the best part of a week to clear it. Patiently waiting by the greenhouse were rows of carefully potted on flowers, Echinacea, Achillea and Salvias to create a wee “prairie” from the recently weeded border. These were having to be watered daily and so would benefit hugely from finally getting into the ground.
Finally, the bed was cleared and a mountain of weeds made their way to the compost bin. Nicole was exhausted but very happy indeed. Now for the good bit, the planting out.
There was no waiting or having a wee rest to recover from all the effort of clearing it. I was on a deadline to mulch it. Nicole headed off to work and I was straight into mulching – it took 4 trailer full’s of mulch to put a decent covering down. Hard, but satisfying work. There is something very attractive about a recently mulched flower bed.
Nicole got home and after a quick cuppa, she was out planting. Given all the problems we’ve had in the veggie patch with slugs and snails, each flower was carefully surrounded with wool.
The net result looks amazing, but will be even better once all the flowers grow and bloom. That will most likely be next year.
I wrote a few weeks back about the problems we were having getting our veggies going this year (problems with veggies). First, the birds dug them up and then, the slugs emerged and scoffed the lot. We ended up with around about 3 kale, 2 turnips, 4 spinach, 3 beetroots, one half-eaten broccoli and some carrots from our first planting. All the salads have gone. None of the direct sown seeds have emerged. Onions aside, A bit of a disaster really.
Luckily, I had kept some seedlings back and potted them up. We also did an emergency purchase of more seeds and got them going. The problem is, though, what to do about the slugs. We don’t really like using slug pellets and besides, they hadn’t been much use where we had used them. In the past, I have tried various approaches, eggshells, traps etc, but none of these were that good really. However, Nicole read somewhere that they don’t like wool. It’s worth a try we thought as we have plenty left over from shearing.
So, over the weekend, I have been planting out the second wave. These are all plants that have been potted up and allowed to grow reasonably large. This should give them a fighting chance. Each plant has been delicately surrounded with a carpet of wool. Rain is forecast this week, we shall soon see if that works. Fingers crossed!
Haribo came to live with us a few years ago. He came to us unwanted by his previous owner and with a list of issues over two pages long. Most of those issues disappeared fairly quickly, but one endured. Haribo was very scared of dogs he didn’t know and this led to a fear aggression response. His coping strategy was to get the first attack in.
This made walking a bit of a problem, but as we were aware of this, we were able to control him. Over time and under George’s wing (George is our Anatolian Shepherd), Haribo’s general behaviour improved, but the fear aggression stayed. In the last few months, we have noticed that Haribo just seems to have become more relaxed. He has a very stable life here and plenty of space. He and George are best mates and he also likes Maga, the collie who lives nearby.
Last weekend, a neighbouring cottage had visitors coming and they were bringing a dog. A small terrier. She’s a very relaxed dog, they told us. Hmm, the words ‘terriers’ and ‘relaxed’ don’t often appear in the same sentence. When I worked as a dog behaviour consultant, most of my clients were owners of small terriers. Anyway, I said I’d manage the introductions. On Friday afternoon, I picked up the collar and lead, but I couldn’t find Haribo anywhere. In the end I went to the neighbour’s cottage. Both George and Haribo really like our neighbours and Haribo often camps in their garden where it’s cool and shady.
Sure enough, there he was, fast asleep in their porch. It turns out they had already met, Haribo and the terrier that is, and nothing had happened. Just a small growl from the terrier, apparently (no surprises there). We are amazed. The first time Haribo has met a strange dog and not gone to level 10 in an instant. He has done well.
His second achievement is that he has lost somewhere in the region of 7Kg. Around the turn of the year, we noticed he was looking a bit porky so we cut his food a bit. It’s our fault really, feeding him too much and not noticing the him slowly getting fatter. Nicole discovered some lumps so we took him to the vet. He’d already lost some weight but he was still around 7Kg overweight. So, we cut his food a bit more. The fatty lumps turned out to be benign and now have disappeared. We weighed him again recently and he’s down to 28kg, much closer to his target weight of around 25kg.
He also has much more energy and is definitely enjoying his walks more.
So well done Haribo. Given one of his previous issues was raiding bins, it’s gratifying that even with his diet, this never happens. In fact, we can leave the animal room open (where we store animal feed including dog biscuits) and they never help themselves.
Well, summer has finally arrived at Auchenstroan. I think it’s going to last for at least two days, so we are trying to make the most of it. We are supposed to be taking a break this week, but there’s always stuff to be done. A couple of sheep have suffered from midgie bites around the eyes so we have been wiping the affected areas clean with saline which seems to be helping. Another sheep has a cut (from shearing) which has got a bit infected, so we have been treating her (it looks like it’s getting better).
While we have been having problems getting veggies to grow (problems with veggies), the flowers are doing really well. The flower bed at the front of the house (pictured above) is constantly buzzing with bees, both honey bees and also various bumble bees.
Nicole is especially pleased as many of the flowers she grew from seeds. Pictured right is a meadow area which is just coming into bloom and looks really great.
Pictured left is a flower bed created by Nicole around a stone dyke (one I repaired a while back). The roses are still to bloom, but the geraniums are enjoying the warm sunshine.
Our wild areas are also blooming. We have set aside quite a few areas as natural meadows. Pictured left is what used to be the pig pen. Now it’s a wild flower haven with young rowan and hazel trees planted so as to create a small woodland. In the meantime, the wild flowers are flourishing.
Our broad leaf woodland is also coming along nicely. The trees are getting to quite a good size now. It’s a great area for trees as it’s quite damp – a lot of the water from the hillside ends up here. We are looking forward to the trees getting ever taller and creating that real woodland feel.
In the meantime, we are scrabbling around to finish our tasks so that we can get the garden chairs out and put our feet up before summer ends.
Last year, extended our veggie patch to give us plenty of room to grow our favourite vegetables. This year, we had the greenhouse ready and also, over the winter I had laid power to it and installed a heater. This was more a frost guard than anything, but it kept the greenhouse a bit warmer than the outside.
Outside, the veggie patch was fully mulched and ready. It looks really god covered in mulch, no weeds (for now).
We were all set and in March we started planting. Everything that had indoor/March on the label was planted and put in the greenhouse. This worked, sort of. The tomatoes decided it was still too cold and never showed. It was the same for the basil. In fact, only really the carrots and brussel sprouts got going.
Outdoors, we planted onion sets. Then the heavy rains came and flooded that area covering all the onion sets in water. Disaster, though in the end, about half grew.
Not to worry, we did a second planting and bit by bit, built up some small vegetable plants. The spring was relatively mild and so we started to plant out some of the hardier crops.
Now, we fed the birds all winter so how did they repay us? By digging up the mulch to look for worms and in so doing, scattering said vegetables everywhere! Most annoying. Luckily, I had a length of blue pipe tucked away behind a shed and we bought some netting. We put back all the uprooted plants and installed said netting. This helped, a bit. It included butterfly proof netting for the brassicas and turnips (last year we had to pick off multitudes of caterpillars on a daily basis).
By now, I’d planted a third set of onions as all the ones grown from seed had simply vanished. Thankfully, the look good and strong.
But still, our veggies were still under attack. We laid out some organic slug pellets. No change. In fact we have lost almost all the brassicas, three quarters of the turnips, half the spinach, all the direct seeded carrots and most of the beetroot. Emergency second and third seedlings are planted and awaiting their turn. The plan is to pot them up and make sure they are strong before planting them out.
Next year, we’ll do what we should have done this year. We’ll put hens in the veggie patch and give them access to unplanted beds. That should take care of the slug population we suspect of causing the damage. At least, we hope so.
I think I have mentioned before that we have quite a lot of stone dykes here and in areas, they are bit run down. With all the other jobs (firewood, sheep handling area, veggies etc), there hasn’t been much time to do any repairs. However, over the winter I was actually paid to fix someone’s wall. It was a neighbour of one of Nicole’s clients and a few metres of wall in their garden had collapsed in a storm. We had a similar collapse here, as it happens.
Anyway, while it’s not really part of my plans to become a professional stone dyker, I said OK and took on the job. It was a bit tricky as the front of the wall was an ornamental flower bed, so I couldn’t stomp about in my size 10 boots. But the wall was built on a slope and most of the stones were on the other side so I worked mainly from there.
It wasn’t too bad a job as most of the stones were small, so you can work quite quickly. It was all done in a couple of mornings and I was quite pleased with the result. The client was too – always a good thing.
Having done that, there was the collapsed wall bordering our hen run to look at. Again, this was built on a slope and it looked like the wall had been gradually tipping over over the years. Also, all the stones were piled all over the wall and took a few hours to move out of the way. It was a right mess.
These stones were a bit bigger, so it took a couple of days to rebuild this section. It just takes a bit longer to get the bigger stones all to fit together within the lines of the wall. And believe me, you only want to lift them once, so you spend a lot of time figuring out what will go where. Nevertheless, I got there in the end and am quite pleased with the result. I did have a few stones left over which was a bit of a worry. That said, the same thing happened on the course and the instructors just shrugged that off saying that it happens.
My current project is a slightly bigger challenge. There is a gap in the wall at the top of our largest field. It’s the border between our patch and forestry land. In the past, there has been a livestock handling area the other side and we suspect a previous owner of our patch knocked through the wall so they could “annex” this. Not sure why, it’s full of bracken (poisonous to livestock), hard to get to and far from any power source. That said, it looks like it hasn’t been used for years, decades even, as it’s all a bit run down.
Anyway, there is a small stock fence across this gap and it is about to fall down. So we decided it would be better to restore the wall. It will look better and be safer for the sheep. It should also slow the spread of bracken into our field.
The main problem is that the original stones have largely vanished. There were a few in our field and so I retrieved those. We also have a pile accumulated from the gate opening we put into another wall a while back. I have been bringing those up in a trailer. Unfortunately, the terrain is too dodgy for the tractor – the front loader would have been very helpful for moving and lifting the larger ones. So I have to use the quad bike and muscle power. All the shifting is done by hand, lifting them into the trailer one end and then out again the other end.
The remaining stones I am sourcing from the surrounding area. There are quite a few lying around on the ground. The main problem is that they are, on average, a good 50m away. So it’s a lot of carrying which takes up a lot of time and effort. They are also all quite big (it’s hard to tell from the picture). The larger ones get rolled. Luckily, I am rolling them downhill.
The other problem is the midges – it’s perfect terrain for them. As a rule, they don’t bother me too much (got used to them as a kid), but when you are working in one area, they get into your ears and eyes and are really annoying. So it was midge nets on. Luckily, the wind generally picks up during the day and they hate the wind.
All in all it took 5 days. Most of the time was spent locating and carrying stones. My back is complaining a bit now. Day 4 had its dramas. I had my first wasp sting since I was a kid. I was picking up a stone and something flew straight at my face and stung me. I’d only just taken my midgie net off! It came back for further attempts but I kept knocking it away – the repeat attacks suggest wasp (didn’t actually see it). Having dealt with that, I then contrived to slip while carrying a large rock. As I flew sideways like a falling tree, the rock landed on my knee, painful but thankfully no real damage done. At that point I took a break and put some ice on it and had a cup of tea.
Anyway, on the fifth day the weather was a bit kinder. Dry, windy enough to blow the midgies away and sunny. The gap is filled and the sheep are much safer. And I’m off to run a bath.
Our heating runs mainly on wood. We do have an oil boiler as backup, but we prefer to use the wood burner which also acts as a central heating boiler. However, it has taken me a couple of years to work out how much wood we need and more importantly, when to have it cut by. Too late and it hasn’t dried out properly. Burning wet wood is not a good idea! So, basically, we need next winter’s wood in the sheds by the end of May!
With that in mind, I have been out gathering wood for what seems like months now. The winter storms had taken down a few trees which was one source. One of Nicole’s gardening client kindly offered us the remnants of a fallen ash tree. It was by the side of the road on a blind corner which made recovery a wee bit tricky, but we handled that by being out at dawn on a Sunday morning when few people were about.
Also, a neighbour wanted his woodland coppiced, so myself and our neighbours have been sorting that out (we share the wood as payment). That was quite a lot of work as it’s one thing bringing a tree down and another extracting the wood. We more or less carried the wood out by hand.
I also coppiced our willow woodland. Like Hazel, willow really benefits from coppicing and we are expecting an explosion of new growth now. Many trees had fallen and so I took out all the fallen trees and dodgy branches. Those too were all carried out by hand.
The final source of firewood is a lorry load of tree trunks (larch) that we and two neighbours bought together a while back. We have a sort of community scheme for sawing that up which kind of works, and sometimes kind of doesn’t.
Anyway, the net result of all this activity is a huge pile of tree trunks awaiting processing plus what seemed like a huge pile of logs waiting to be chopped to size and stored for firewood. Thankfully, we (neighbours) also share a log splitter and the above picture is the pile after most had been split and some stored. I still use an axe from time to time, especially with the hardwood – I quite like chopping wood the old fashioned way. But, it’s a lot of wood to chop! It is one of those things, a huge pile of logs on the ground seems to melt into a tiny space in the shed, yet when burnt they disappear so quickly.
Nevertheless, I think we now have enough wood stored for next winter. So, now on with sourcing the following winter’s wood – it’s never ending….
Well, what can I say – February had some unusually warm weather with bright, warm sunny days. It was lovely, even if it was a sign of underlying climate change. We took full advantage including getting in some early seed sowing. We now have brassicas and turnips germinating in the greenhouse. This is helped by the fact that I laid in an electric cable and installed a small tube heater to keep the frost at bay. And those warm February days did turn pretty chilly at night.
The next thing that happened was that suddenly, there were frogs everywhere. The frog chorus met at the pond and started singing their hearts out. Driving up the track at night suddenly became an exercise in frog spotting followed by evasive manoeuvres (or Nicole getting out of the car and helping them to safety). We think we have done quite well because there are no flat frogs on the track. That said, the herons are back. I suppose it’s an early spring feast for them.
The question is, were they a bit early? Because, after the warm spell, storm Freya hit. Torrential rain, wind and it all turned a bit chilly. I don’t think the frogs minded the rain so much. The sheep and hens are not impressed though. The area around the sheep field shelter and feeders has become something of a quagmire. Good job they have a patio! That said, one of the great things here is that they can trundle up the hill where the ground is remarkably solid. They can escape the mud and they do, happily grazing (the grass is growing already) and cudding and generally just being sheep.
Storm Freya continues to wag her tail at us as I write this, but inbetween the rain and blustery winds, we are at least getting moments of sunshine.
And after writing this, I’ll be off to plant more seeds.
It has been a much better winter, so far, than last year.Our neighbour did remind me that we had not had the beast from the east by this time last year, but we had had plenty of snow. This year, in contrast, it has almost been spring like on occasions.
For us, this means we can get on with various outdoor tasks. Nicole has been busy making felted rugs (read more here), as well as getting the garden ready for the spring. Not to mention mucking out the sheep shelter.
My tasks tend to be more on the structural side. One of the things we get through a lot of here is wood. Our heating runs on it. Our predecessors bought lorry loads of wood along with our two neighbours and cut it up together, something we have carried on with since we moved here. But with all this land, I thought we should grow our own. We have plenty willow, but it’s quite hard to access. I will be trimming some of that next week. But, in the meantime, I have started a 5 year plan to plant hazel. 50 trees a year. The first 50 went in last week (you can see them in the top picture). In 5 or 6 years, they should be ready to harvest.
Hazel actually benefits from being cut back, it’s a classic “copse” tree. It grows back really quickly. So, with 50 a year, we should be able to harvest enough wood for the winter while , at the same time, remaining carbon neutral.
Continuing with the wood theme, in the winter storms, a willow tree did blow down near the front of the house. We were lucky in that it do no damage to anything.
I finally got round to chopping it up in January. A useful supply of logs for next winter. Many thanks to Nicole’s uncle Kurt (visiting from Switzerland) who helped me stack them.
I am also continuing my background task of repairing stone dykes. We have a lot of stone dykes here and a few need attention. This is particularly true of those near the road. My goal is to repair them so far as I can. Sadly, on one corner, the previous owners allowed the walls to be trashed by a tree felling company and I can’t get at the stones as they are buried under branches.
Nevertheless, I shall plug away. Those same storms cause a part of the stone dyke bordering our hen run to collapse. I hadn’t heard of storms taking down walls before, but it also happened to a friend of one of Nicole’s gardening clients. I know this because she commissioned me to repair it, my first real stone dyke job for which I got paid.
Anyway, our chicken run wall was tilting a bit so took a bit of careful rebuilding. I am quite pleased with the result. This is especially so because the stones are quite large and it can be hard to get them to align properly. On the course, it was mostly small stones – dead easy.
I reckon I spend 4 times as long pondering which stone to use next as I do actually putting them in place.
Anyway, it’s quite satisfying work, especially on a nice, spring like winter day.