April brings asparagus to the veg patch, nightingales to the tree tops and colour to the countryside. And yes the cuckoo, although not really my favourite bird. Actually, I was beginning to fret about the nightingales. They always come by the first week of April, usually by the 6th. So when that day came and went without a tweet I hoped nothing was amiss somehow. It wasn’t until the 10th that we heard one off in the meadows somewhere one evening but nothing close by. However, there are a couple down in the valley now, again a first. So although they are not singing when I open the chickens in the morning or put them away at night their song in the valley is just marvellous and makes the dog walk even more enjoyable.
The garden is not without song, that’s for sure. It seems even noisier than normal, mainly the blackbirds, robins, chaffinches and blackcaps in the morning. Not having seen anything of the wrens which had made their nest outside the top door we mistakenly thought they had gone elsewhere until we realised that they had just been hunkering down on eggs. We were really looking forward to seeing the little ones fledge but they went one morning while walking Betty.
The asparagus deserves some kind of medal, I have to admit to not taking such great care over their bed but despite the neglect the shoots are coming through thick and fast. Richard had a go barbecuing some and they were delicious.
The earlier orchids are on their way out, and are being replaced by bee orchids, and woodcocks…
mirror orchids and epipactis lusitanica…
and plenty of others. So small and yet so charming.
The garden has appreciated the wet and dry spells and is also a riot of colour:
Which reminds me the purple leaves of ornamental plum in the background here makes a lovely blue dye so must get the dye pots out again.
In the courtyard it not only looks nice but smells nice. In fact late afternoon you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into the ground floor of a department store so strong is the perfume from the orange blossom and jasmine.
We always say May is the nicest month for the countryside so we’re really looking forward to seeing nature at its best.
It’s been a lovely November really. We’ve had some rain, some frost and some wind. But mostly we’ve had sunny days and quite mild nights. The wood burning stove went on for the first night on the 5th, appropriately, and always heralds the start of the chilly season and cozy evenings. But we’ve still been having lunch outside and the garden still feels a welcome place to spend some time.
Both in the countryside and the garden the autumnal colours are on full display, this robin (we have loads here) was checking up on me one afternoon:
Pomegranate and vines ablaze:
We’ve both been busy chopping, pruning, bonfire making, last of the jam-making, and planting. Another lot of daffodils and irises went in recently although previously planted bulbs are already peeking through. We just have three kiwis waiting to go in. It’s been great weather for pottering about in wellies. On one lovely countryside walk we managed to get the last of the medronhos (left), strawberry fruit, for some jam. I think these on the right are wild pistachios:
But frosts we have had. The veg patch had a silver sheen on it one morning:
I’m amazed how things survive. The broad beans had become frozen favas and only the smallest of the pea sprouts had been protected overnight, but neither have been affected by the frost.
Meanwhile the old broccoli from the spring planting, from which I’d only cut off the main heads, are giving us a second crop (left), slightly smaller but just as good. And the September plants have the first of their heads appearing:
So we’re eating these as well as leeks, jersualem artichokes (what the voles haven’t had), peppers (yes!), and different kinds of squash. I’m hoping the sprouts will be big enough for our Christmas dinner. The purple sprouting broccoli meanwhile is the best yet (ready in the spring) and the oranges are almost ready:
The main task for me this month has been dealing with the asparagus. Why oh why don’t the books tell you it will grow into a huge hedge where no light can penetrate. I really would have put them in a different place. First task then was to cut the plants down and clear the bed of weeds:
I started to remove the soil around the plants carefully, using just a small and large fork but it soon became evident that the ‘simple’ task of edging them out, despite the recent rain, would be no such thing. I scraped and levered and tugged and coaxed the plants out. Nothing. I spent another thirty minutes doing the same thing. Nada. Eventually, I got one plant out; it had taken almost an hour. This was not going to work. In the end I got the spade and hacked at the plants and their enormous, tough, penetrating roots. I broke my favourite spade 🙁
Anyway, I got three out and placed them in their new bed. If they don’t work never mind as I still have another healthy, productive bed. But what a bother.
The garlic is in. In the last post I talked about mulching the beds. I just couldn’t face any weeding at all, there wasn’t a great deal as the bed for the garlic had already been mulched over the year (I decided to let that bed be fallow) but there were certainly some grasses and bindweed (my nemesis) that should’ve been pulled out. But no, I simply covered it with chicken feed paper sacks, made some holes and plonked the garlic in and then covered it with the grass Richard had strimmed and fallen leaves. I have no idea if this will be all right, time will tell but a task that normally took a few hours was less than one. Green fingers crossed.
The main task for Richard this month (apart from the strimming) has been reducing the number of our roasties and ducks. All the ducks are now dead and there remain four, increasingly nervous, roasties.
A new thing for us, inspired by our road trip to France in May, was to make confitdecanard. It was surprisingly easy to make and we’re looking forward to having that with some home grown veg.
While we’re on the fowl front the hens have been slow at laying. The one which moulted over the summer is looking fine and dandy, but the other two now seemed to have mistimed their feather dropping and are looking rather sorry for themselves and one has lost its tail. They bullied the third one horribly so it serves them right. But none of them are producing eggs so it looks like we’ll have to get replacements in the spring… are you listening chooks?
So as we hunker down in front of the fire, chestnuts roasting, we hope that December will be as pleasant – well for us, less so for the roasties 🙂
Thursday morning, 11 April, it thundered down with rain; great sheets of it squashing the irises. Come the afternoon sunny intervals and since then not a drop. It’s got sunnier and warmer each day, as I glance up now there’s not a cloud in the sky and it still feels strange after such a wet, wet spring. But of course every cloud has a silver lining and we now seem to be living in the Emerald City, the grass is sooo gorgeously green!
And it’s also meant that all systems are go in the garden and veg patch. There are now a million and one tasks that need to be done (including strimming and weeding of course) and prioritising them can be difficult. Loads of seedlings have been potted on, and I’m especially pleased that the leeks have done their trick. Having saved a few flower heads from plants last year, and kept them in the potting shed, there were plenty of tiny black seeds to sow. These have all germinated and there are now 50 leeklings (?) which is wonderful, no need to buy leek seeds from now on (I hope).
We have also been able to enjoy one of our favourite past times, ie the lunchtime barbie! Purple sprouting broccoli is up but I’m most excited about the abundant crop of asparagus.
Loads more to tell but back to the jobs and the evening sunshine now…
From super spuds to amazing asparagus! The asparagus crowns were put in the ground a week ago. Yesterday was the first lovely day after lots of rain so it was time to check up on how things were going. Amazingly, there were loads of asparagus spears, some 15cm tall! I somehow thought they’d stay dormant until next year but they’re up and thrusting (as it were) already. Now we just have to wait until 2012…
Meanwhile there are fewer Jersey Royals to be eaten. Not because my sister sent loads to me but because the island has had the worst drought in 34 years, so all the more reason to savour ours.
This morning I made a list of things to do in the garden which was basically to decide where the rhubarb, melons, asparagus and leeks were going to go and prepare / make some beds for these. My dad had written that he’d posted the asparagus on Friday from Jersey and although it was only Monday I decided to go for that first as it seemed the most work and despite the sunshine it felt quite cool so perfect working weather. My first choice of position had to be abandoned – the sunny days have made our clayish soil rock hard already so there was no way I could start another bed. The only bed available was earmarked for the leeks but it was weed free and workable so I set about making an asparagus raised bed. The edging bricks are rather ugly but I’m planning to put some herbs and flowers in their holes. I’d just put in the manure and taken a photo when blow me down the postie pulled up with a large bag of asparagus crowns! I covered the manure, plonked the spiderlike plants on top and covered them with soil and lots of water. The compost they were in was still slightly damp so I’m hoping they’ll be fine, will let you know in two years’ time!
Meanwhile I was getting a bit concerned about the Jersey Royals. The potato plants that Luis had given us were now twice as tall and covered in flowers even though they’d been planted weeks later. After some googling last night I discovered that flowers aren’t always present, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t any tatties down there. It also seemed that if you leave the Royals in the ground too long they start to lose their waxiness and become floury. So with some trepidation, and excitement, I rummaged under one of the plants that had looked rather sorry for itself last week (although it was now looking much better with loads of new leaves) and found a potato – a perfect looking good sized potato. So I pulled enough out to have for lunch and picked some mint too:
To be honest I wasn’t sure how they’d taste. They hadn’t had the seaweed mulch they get in Jersey, and other websites I’d been on said they’d failed. Well, I’m happy to say that with some butter and mint they were lovely, perhaps not as fantastic as the ones I’ve had in Jersey but delicious never the less and well worth the effort. Thank you, sis! And sorry, Richard (again!) For those wondering why I’m not sharing these first harvests with Richard – he’s back home and I’m sure enjoying some Manx kippers. Back to the garden…