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You might have noticed that it’s been raining!

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Quite a lot actually.  The hydro has 5 days to go in this quarter and it is already our highest single quarter of generation since we started in 2012.  So in my book, that makes it the wettest quarter for 6 years and that doesn’t take into account all the additional rainwater that couldn’t fit into the turbine’s 3kWh limit.

Look how much is ‘going to waste’ here!

All that wasted electricity!

Sue has been manfully (or should that be womanfully) trying to carry on with the Spring (!!??) tasks in the garden, but I’ve found the time to fire up the forge, dust off the circular saw and make some bits and bobs that sunshine stops me from doing.

A couple of our very old cold-frames were falling apart, so with the help of a few recycled (cadged from a skip!) windows, knocked together two new ones; all mod cons, double glazed, half-open and full-open latches and hand-forged lifting handles!

Rolls-Royce cold-frame

curly-wurly handle

Then, for indoors, I finally got round to replacing a number of screws, bent hooks and the like which were making the (newly painted) kitchen look a bit untidy.

I was helped in the motivation to get forging by Sue buying me a day working with a genuine blacksmith for my birthday – so thought I’d better brush up my skills a bit before going along.

Hand-forged hook (and poker)

A ‘nest of hooks’ – deliberately made in different sizes for different jobs, but they just look right all together.

 

And now, something cutesy to finish up with.  These four little ‘rays of sunshine’ appeared.

Two girls, two boys and all supposed to be black!

 

 

Starting the new garden year – on video!

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We were very lucky last week to have a wonderful documentary film-maker staying with us. By some sort of serendipity she phoned us looking for somewhere to stay in the area whilst she did some film editing and looked at a property she was interested in.  So we offered her the use of the garden room in return for making a short video for us.

Sophie Windsor Clive, for that is her name, has done a super job, despite having only one day when the weather wasn’t dull, windy, rainy, snowy and what ever else the elements could throw spanners into the works. Thanks Sophie!!

It is, of course, a view of the garden that most people wouldn’t see – the garden in January.  This is an important time in the gardening cycle.  The work done now sets the tone for the rest of the year.

We hope this insight will arouse your interest in visiting us later in the year.

Just click on the arrow button and enjoy!

Christmas on the Beech

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No, that’s not a spelling mistake in the title.  We’re talking here about beech trees in the dingle, not lovely sandy stretches in the Bahamas.

The big snow of just before Christmas, knocked quite a few branches off trees, particularly some of the conifers in the garden, but nothing too catastrophic.  It was only when I went up to clear the pond pipe and check the hydro intake, that I saw it.  I couldn’t see what I was after, but I could see a lot of tree lying head down across the stream – as reported in the previous post.

One you’ve seen earlier!

OK, so it doesn’t look that huge in this photo but the bit where it split off the rest of the trunk is about 2 foot in diameter and it’s probably 60 foot tall/long.  It is also on both sides of the stream with a steep drop on one side.

The problem was how to make it safe in the first place.  Cut into the wrong bit and there were half a dozen spiky branches just waiting to making a horrible mess of the intake screen – which would have meant turning off the hydro just as it is starting to generate some useful quantities.

First, gain access to the site

After a couple of hours of careful tree surgery I was finally able to see the intake and get access to the pipe – after a fashion!

Much of this ‘brash’ is still there……

….. because it is acting as a fence against the forest sheep, the wire having been smashed down in more than one place.  Still plenty of useful firewood in there eventually though.

Then it was on to the ‘business end’, where once again it was holding the fence down, offering a motorway sized entrance to wildlife.

I had hoped that a cut through just above the wire would allow it to swing the main length up and away, but there were too many branches propping up the main spars so it had to be done in smaller sections until the fence was released and could be repaired.

Getting to grips with the bigger stuff…..

… which is where they still lay, pending a bit of additional muscle (hopefully in the shape of family) as I can’t move this size of log in the length I want on my own.

The smaller (relatively speaking) logs I threw into a rough pile on one side of the stream..

roughly removed..

… and then built a nice cord-wood style stack between a couple of alders.  This pile is roughly 4′ x 5′ x 6′, or according to ArbTalk about 3.2 tons!  And that is probably less than half of what will eventually be harvested.

Tidy!

All that was needed now was a bit of time and the job would be done.

But, guess what?  It snowed again and the tree next up the slope also split apart and dropped three more branches exactly in the same spot. Not quite as big, but equally tangled and disruptive.  So, like the old Flanders and Swann song about the gasman, it all started again yesterday or if you prefer “it all makes work for the (retired) working man to do!”

Still, in a year or two we’ll have a lovely big stack of my favourite firewood to keep us warm – just a lot of carrying, splitting and cutting in the interim!

 

Bringing the garden indoors

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Bringing foliage, berries, cones and seed heads indoors from the forest and garden is a tradition which sometimes gets forgotten amidst the flashing, multi-coloured lights, revolving (revolting?) Santas, talking reindeer and other “bling” which so-called Garden Centres seem to wish upon us.

Not at Nant-y-Bedd.

Seasonal seed head - allium

Seasonal seed head – allium

I like to trim our own holly trees just before Christmas to provide sprigs for a traditional holly wreath – cotoneaster berries this year as the birds have stripped the holly before I got there.

Trimmed holly

Trimmed holly

Poor postman, can't find the letterbox!

Poor postman, can’t find the letterbox!

The trimmings from the bottom of the (Grand Fir or Noble Fir, as they don’t drop their needles) Christmas Tree get recycled into a swag which hangs above the mirror in the sitting room.

Raw material for the swag

Raw material for the swag

Starting the production

Starting the production

Nearly there

Nearly there

Finished article

Finished article

And I always select a lichen and moss covered twig from Jeddah’s tree (so-called because my dog is buried beneath it), a Field Maple, to hang over the fireplace.

All lichen and moss

Seed heads are allowed to stand over winter in the garden to provide some structure and interest, as well as sustenance for the birds.  Some get bashed down by the wind, rain and snow and are harvested for both seed and for indoor decoration.

Some gardeners feel the need to adorn their Christmas windowsills with early flowering spring bulbs – narcissus Paperwhite and Hyacinths –  but I prefer to leave that until the short, dark days of January, when I’m glad to be reminded that Spring isn’t far away.

Windowsill display

Windowsill display

Christmas for me is enjoying candlelight and crackling log fires with the cedar / pine aroma of a real Christmas tree.

Add to that home-made tree decorations and it is more “hygge” than “bling”.

Home-made

Home-made

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

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Yes, it’s Keat’s time of year again, with the autumn fruit lighting up the misty mornings.

Depending on who you talk to this summer has been:  hot / dry / cold / damp / lovely /grotty – so it’s nice to see some real rewards despite the weather.

The early fruit did quite well, with strawberries overcoming a cold damp spell, which seemed to really suit the raspberries. Possibly the best crop we’ve had, and these were supplemented by loads of worcesterberries and gooseberries, reasonable numbers of blackcurrants and even the plums did OK down above the chicken run.  Sue has made jam from many of these as previously reported.

Now it is the turn of the later ripening species.

We now have three pear trees, which each have about 3 pears on them.  They say that you “plant pears for your heirs” and that is looking pretty much right at the moment.

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The Tom Putt apples are glowing bright red right now, probably redder than for many a year.  They are a bit of an acquired taste and go brown as you are eating them, so it will probably be juice / cider as the outcome for these.  All three trees are well covered.

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We also have two Howgate Wonders which suffer badly from canker, but one of them has a good handful or two of lovely fruit.  Officially a cooker, they are equally tasty as a dessert apple.

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The new James Grieve espalier by the garden entrance gate had two large apples this year which unfortunately got blown off before we could pick them.  Absolutely tremendous flavour though – just finishing one of them off as I type!

The crab apples are fruiting well too.  The red one behind the fence isn’t as good as last year, but even so the deep red makes it a sight to be seen.

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It’s not all hard fruit.  The alpine strawberries have been having a late spurt and often feature at breakfast (if I haven’t got to them before).  This year the birds seem to have left them alone a bit more.

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In the greenhouse the black grapes are almost ready to pick.  Not really for eating, they’ll be vinified in the not too distant future. The white vine suffered scale bug a couple of years ago and may have to be replaced.

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Finally, not specifically a fruit but something to be picked at this time of year, the sichuan pepper has had it’s best crop so far.  By the time I’ve sorted the final picking – removing and discarding the seeds from the husks – there will be three ‘spice jars’ full of aromatic spice just begging to be used in a Chinese stir fry!dscf4220

Summer success stories and (yet more) jam

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Driven indoors by a sudden and dramatic thunderstorm, I am now making jam – a satisfying September-during-a-thunderstorm kind of activity.  I should mention that jam-making is taking place on a wood-fuelled cooker so no worries about power cuts affecting the process.

Plum jam this time.  This follows successful batches of blackcurrant and blackcurrant-and-worcesterberry when those crops were harvested several weeks ago.  I never make strawberry jam:  it seems a crime not to eat them fresh (or give to friends and relatives) even though at full production we can pick up to 8- 10 lbs a day.  I seldom make raspberry jam for the same reason – although I will say that my raspberry jam is rather good.

Jam-making today, however, is less about being an efficient grower and preserver of our own produce and more about recently finding last year’s plums still lurking in one of the freezers and it is there they still lurk.  The jam is being made with this year’s gatherings.

So, fruit crops so far this summer have generally been a success, including the best crop of raspberries we have had for some years.

The summer here at an altitude of 1200′ in the Black Mountains has been cool and dry.  I spent weeks in July and August carrying water from various collecting tanks and barrels to precious things in pots and newly-planted out summer crops.

rainwater harvesting in various up-cycled baths and barrels

rainwater harvesting in various up-cycled baths and barrels

In spite of keeping things alive by watering, the low temperatures meant that some half-hardies such as Cosmos and Nicotiana never really got going.  However, not to dwell on the failures but to celebrate the successes…

Brassicas have done well – particularly broccoli and Red Winter kale (from seed I saved 2 years ago) which we have been harvesting for weeks.  Some excellent looking cabbages are also growing well.

Broccoli in the kitchen

Broccoli in the kitchen

Garlic and onions were not quite as good as last year – but last year’s were exceptionally good – all now harvested, dried off on windowsills and awaiting plaiting to be hung up in the kitchen.  As we are still using last year’s garlic I think all recipes in the foreseeable future need to be heavily laced with garlic…

2016 garlic and onion crop drying in the woodyard

2016 garlic and onion crop drying in the woodyard

I always grow several varieties of garlic on the basis that if one doesn’t perform others might.  This year Provence Wight by far outshone the others so I may just stick with that next year.  Will be buying as soon as they are in stock locally to be planted out next month.

I wasn’t expecting much from the potatoes this year because of the dry summer.  The earlies, International Kidney, were not brilliant.  However, the Remarkas, which I grow as a baking potato, when lifted today have done well.  The Charlottes are still in the ground as rain stopped play today.

Broad beans, peas and mangetout were good and runner beans are cropping well.  Spinach and chard are good and have just started using the main crop carrots. And a new lettuce mix I tried this year has cropped for weeks and still going strong.

Asolo lettuce mix

Asolo lettuce mix

The pumpkins and squashes have finally got going and several fruits have set so if the frosts hold off for another month or so we should get a crop of both.

Pumpkin Tom Fox, Squashes Turks Turban and Crown Prince

Pumpkin Tom Fox, Squashes Turks Turban and Crown Prince

The surprise success this year in the potager has been Munchen Bier radish.  I have grown this as a winter-use radish on and off over a number of years but hadn’t realised that the seed pods are edible – excellent when young and green in salads.  The chaffinches also thought they were tasty but fortunately I had harvested enough seed to sow next year before they devoured the lot.

Munchen Bier radish seed pods

Munchen Bier radish seed pods

In the floral line particular successes in later summer have been:

un-named clematis

un-named clematis

An un-named (note to self – must do better at labelling) clematis romping over a mound of cotoneaster in the cottage garden has been flowering for months.

lovely sweet peas

lovely sweet peas

The sweet peas were lovely, now finished.  We’ve removed them but kept the hazel domes for some structure in the winter garden.

lovely poppies

lovely poppies

poppies co-ordinating with the tree spinach

poppies co-ordinating with the tree spinach and cosmos

Lovely poppies popping up amongst the veggies in the potager seem to colour co-ordinate themselves beautifully with their bed-mates.

asters with cosmos

asters with cosmos

We trialled asters in the cutting garden this year.  They have provided some lovely much-needed late colour.  Will definitely include them next year. And the Monardas have been great in the cottage garden.

Monarda in the cottage garden

Monarda in the cottage garden

And I spotted the first flowers on the harebells I’ve been trying to establish on a dry grassy bank in the cottage garden.

Harebells flowering in the grass

Harebells flowering in the grass

Success with scything rather than strimming:

 

heaps of scythings adjacent to the potager

heaps of scythings adjacent to the potager

More successes with up-cycling things – my favourite this summer was 3 roof lights (thank you builder friend Gavin) turned into mini cold frames.

up-cycled mini cold frame

up-cycled mini cold frame

Success with our natural swimming pond – this summer it has been crystal clear with no sign of algae just pond skaters and water-boatmen, the Emperor dragonfly and the occasional Mabberley.

 

morning sunlight on the swimming pond

morning sunlight on the swimming pond

Our new map of the garden painted by Caroline has proved a great success with our visitors – seen here at the entrance to the potager and used for a garden guide which visitors use to navigate their way around the 6.5 acres.

 

The entrance to the potager

The entrance to the potager

Visitors have also appreciated the tea room.  One visitor wrote in our ‘comments’ book:

‘what a wonder!  Could live in the tea house!!! So many beautiful spaces in and out.’

 

the 'tea house'

the ‘tea house’

Perhaps we should start selling cream teas with home made jam in the ‘tea house’?  But that would mean more time spent in the kitchen and not in the garden…

Taking a closer look

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We have an interesting relationship with our garden and the plants in it.

Sometimes we introduce a plant – it may be a gift from a friend, seeds collected on holiday, or an impulse buy – and it loves our garden, thrives and reproduces itself and feels thoroughly at home.  Examples are Lysimachia ‘Firecracker’ (can’t remember where I got this from originally – but it out-competes ground elder so is a real winner), Acaena microphylla (thank you Sarah), wild chicory (thanks for the seeds Mick)

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wild chicory

and Monardas (at least, some of them). The red Monarda, pictured below is really happy here and spreads itself about like mad, whereas others I have planted have simply disappeared.

Monarda

Monarda

Those then come into the category of ‘plants that are introduced and then sulk and die and/or get eaten by slugs’ – but let’s not dwell on these.

And then there are others that just arrive and make themselves at home. This category includes fabulous plants like Wild angelica (positively identified by a botanist friend – I’m very nervous about white-flowered umbellifers), Golden saxifrage – swathes of it lighting up the garden in Spring, and Sambucus racemosa – the Alpine elder – where did that come from?  And teasels.

teasel in the potager

teasel in the potager

And hogweed (yes, really)…

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hogweed with verbascum, lupin and cornflowers in the potager

Here are some  close-up shots of other things which are happy here at the moment.  Some, of course, like Cosmos, Larkspur, Sweet peas and Sweet Williams need some cosseting (i.e. slug protection) but are so lovely that it’s worth it and my Summer garden wouldn’t be complete without them.

Cosmos 'the Dazzler'

Cosmos ‘the Dazzler’

Larkspur

Larkspur

Sweet William Cherry Red

Sweet William Cherry Red

Sweet pea - one of the many smelly ones I grow

Sweet pea – one of the many smelly ones I grow

And then there are the alliums which require no cosseting and en masse look fantastic but close-up look pretty good too.

Allium sphaerocephalon in the cottage garden

Allium sphaerocephalon in the cottage garden

 

With thanks to Jonathan Need for the use of these lovely photos he took when he visited Nant-y-bedd a few weeks ago.

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