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Ian’s Review of the Year – Part 2

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We left off in Part 1 just as June came to a close.

From July until the end of September is our “Open Season”, so not only lots to do in the garden, especially from my point of view trying to fit in noisy jobs like lawn-mowing (fortunately the prolonged dry spell had kept grass growth to a minimum for a few months), but also loads of wonderful conversations with our visitors – just over 700 of them this year.

We really do enjoy chatting with them and discussing all aspects of gardening, old tractors, chickens, pigs and bikes!  Yes, all of these were raised on more than one occasion during the summer!

One of the first things that happened in July was the arrival of this year’s two piggies. Oxford Sandy & Blacks again from Sarah and Ian in Llangynidr.  We had a male and a female this year as the second male we wanted proved too difficult to catch!  It worked out OK and our first visitors after they arrived named them, rather topically, as Harry and Meghan!!  (I haven’t dared put this in writing until now in case I got hauled off to the Tower!)

Harry & Meghan get to know their ‘patch’

In the natural swimming pond we had to share our space with lots and lots of newts, busy getting fat on the tadpoles.

Not Great Crested – honestly!

Then we had a very unusual visitor on the table outside the Shepherd’s Hut.  A fledgling (just) cuckoo.  After the dragonflies earlier in the year, this just emphasised to us how fortunate we are to be surrounded by all these amazing beasts.

Who’s a pretty Cuckoo?

As the sun continued to shine we hosted our NGS Open weekend.  Numbers were down on last year, but this appeared to be a nationwide problem.  Apparently it was too hot to go out!  Talking of the NGS, at the end of the month we helped out at the Royal Welsh for them – hope you like the pinny!

No comment!

Of course as it was Royal Welsh week it rained!

The week after our NGS days we had a group visit from the Professional Gardeners Guild – thirty of them – so no pressure there then!  In fact they seemed to really enjoy the afternoon and didn’t want to leave, even though some had travelled quite long distances.

Early in August we took delivery of some new ducks.  We had managed to hatch out one egg from the previous lot – who laid about a dozen then disappeared on day – and decided he (as we can now confirm) needed some friends.  So big thanks to Linzi for 5 new ones, who incidentally are so much larger than the original ones.  They performed for the visitors admirably during the summer, but have recently taken to getting down to the pond, which has to be stopped!

Quackers behaving

August passed by in a blur of visitors and trying to keep on top of the amazing growth that the long hot dry spell, coupled with recent rain had set in train. So by early September we were harvesting furiously.

From my point of view the two most important crops were the Sichuan Peppercorns and the hops.  I planted Fuggles and Goldings hop varieties about ten years ago.  Every year they romp up the strings and occasionally produce a few flowers, which invariably turn brown before they are properly ripe.  This year the main patch was so full of flowers that they bent two metal 10mm square supporting poles.  This is no mean feat and a full carrier bag of flowers weighs about five ounces.  You get the idea of how much there was.  Eventually I managed to pick and dry enough for about 7 or 8 homebrews, but it is slow, tedious work and there were other things requiring my time.

Just a very small part of the Sichuan and Hop harvest

The Sichuan was also amazing and took several days of picking which yielded 6 spice jars full.  Doesn’t sound a lot but that should do us a year of ‘Chinese’ stir-fries.

Around the same time the forest was humming with odd sorts ferreting around for mushrooms.  Apparently the weather was perfect for ceps and chanterelles.  Spotting a car that had seemingly gone straight on at a corner, I was about to enquire if they were OK when the window wound down and it was our friend Bruce, mushroom hunter extraordinaire. He stopped and took Sue mushrooming around the back of the house – and we are still here to tell the tale!

Edible ones – thank goodness

I mentioned earlier how we enjoy all sorts of obscure conversations with visitors. Sue was in the yard one morning when a car pulled up and the occupant (a gentleman of advanced years) got out and said “ah, yes, just how I remember it”.  It turned out that he had spent some time working here for the Forestry Commission many years before Sue arrived in 1980.  To cut a very long story short he recommended a book (published in 1952), which we managed to source via the dear old Interweb.  There on the front cover is our house, surrounded by fields rather forest – though marauding sheep do feature!  There’s a short bit about the local office inside as well, so that was a wonderful chance meeting.

“Mum, we’re on the cover!”

The middle of October brought our, now annual, invasion of the ladybirds.  As with most things this year, a larger number than before, but still (mainly) in the one corner of the bedroom window.  I even managed to get a letter about them published in the  Daily Telegraph  to go with my (previously unpublished) one that made their annual book of the “Best of the Rest”  Fame at last!

Hibernation time

We held off harvesting the grapes as long as possible and were rewarded by enough to make over 30 bottles of wine – and all without having to add too much extra sugar.  Colours are excellent; tasting in a few months!

Chateau Nantybedd

As October drew to a close we had some amazing evening skies. Difficult to get good phots with basic cameras, but this will give you an idea.  Of course the leaves were falling by now so much effort was in raking and refilling the leafmould bins.  But where they fall on water they do make for a pretty picture.

Outside the small greenhouse

Into November and the first key task was to work through a few of the (much admired) woodstores and get them cut to length and into the shed.  Looks a lot but I reckon March might show a very different view.  This rapid turnover of firewood means that more trees have to be felled and split to replenish the outside stores.   I was well into this with about a dozen reasonable size conifers felled, de-branched and cut to length when I awoke early one morning in absolute agony.  Six weeks later, its a bit better but despite blood tests and X-rays the Docs still don’t know what the problem is or how it might have been caused. Very frustrating.

just a few sticks of firewood

We had our first real frost on 22nd and were wondering if we’d be under a foot of snow again in a few weeks, but so far, so good.

Jack Frost arrives

We finally managed to get the few days away at Stockwell Farm that we were snowed out of in March, but I wasn’t exactly the life and soul of the party! But id did do a lot of good raining, so at least the hydro was finally making some money again!

December has passed in a bit of a blur of Doctor appointments and Ibuprofen and getting ready for Christmas.  Sue made her annual Holly Wreath (in fact she made an extra one for the gate) and posted a picture on Instagram.  Two people responded by asking if she did wreath making courses.  She will be now!

Make your own Holly Wreath in 2019

On the matter of courses, we have a full 2019 programme of Liz’s Foraging Days and Sue is in the process of finalising more Compost Making, Wild Gardening and Organic Vegetable Growing (as well as Wreath Making) days and these will be published here very soon.

A somewhat eclectic, and certainly one-sided, view of 2018 but occasionally I’m allowed to witter on about things I like!

Happy 2019 and good gardening to all.

 

 

 

 

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