Saturday, 26 March 2016

Stony Faced

It was near as damn it exactly 7 years ago yesterday that we created the raised beds that became our veg plot. It was 7 years ago last month that we created the trenches that became the poly-tunnel. Come December, it will be 7 years ago that we created the five rows and ten holes that became the soft fruit patch. All of these were bare soil reclaimed from a grassy, weedy field unloved and unfarmed for a good long while. All of these required hours of hard labour, digging, raking, sieving. How then could I possibly have forgotten just how stony, and I mean really seriously stones galore stony, our land is!

Once upon a time we had a wild flower garden. It lasted one summer. One glorious flower filled colourful summer. Then the chickens started free ranging. And the grasses and the docks and the nettles moved back in. All that remains is a small patch of comfrey and a border of rose bay willowherb, and the latter only there by accident, the seeds parachuted in from elsewhere like emergency reinforcements as the seed heads of the front line flowers fell victim to scratching greedy chickens.

There have been other experiments with wild flowers over the years. The seeds scattered around the new pond produced a one off bonanza poppy display not seen again until last year, some 4 years later, when a smaller but equally impressive display flowered 6 feet away from the original flowering site and INSIDE the poly-tunnel. Meanwhile, the annual pond display now consists almost entirely of red and white campion. Beautiful and bee-friendly as they are, neither were in the flower mix we sowed.

Undeterred by our track record, spurred on by the plight of our forage hungry bees, we've begun another wild flower project, optimistically trying to learn from past mistakes. David did the hard graft of removing the turf, leaving me with the delight of returning home from a day at work to find a corner of the fruit patch transformed into a flower bed with a curve so shapely I felt the need to wolf whistle.

All I had to do was follow planting instructions to "dig over the bed to the depth of the tines of your fork and create a fine tilth". If my fork had been half the size it actually is, everything would have been fine and dandy. As it was, my first attempt to sink the fork tine deep was met with a stony thud halfway. Move the fork a little to the left, try again. Thunk. Move the fork a little to the right and behind. Thud. It was at this point that all those hours, 7 long years ago, of digging, raking and sieving came back to me. As I said at the start, how could I have forgotten!

Two hours, a setting sun and four piles of stones later, my flower bed had a sort of definitely not fine but fine enough for me tilth, my hand had a blister and my back muscles were in need of a soothing Epsom salts bath.

The sun continued to shine that week, warming the top layer of soil to a seed cosy temperature, so we broadcast sowed the seed mix. Seeds are fascinating little bundles of botanical magic waiting to explode into floral fireworks. The closer you look, the greater the detail there is to see in their differing shapes, textures and colours, and yet none of that detail can be extraneous as Mother Nature is not generally frivolous for frivolity's sake. My seed mix included fairy paint brushes (or hairy legged micro squids), teeny tiny eggs, fossilized spiky baby slugs and beetle body husks.

The packets promise that this unpromising looking medley will one day be cornflowers, borage, buckwheat, calendula, phacelia, corn poppy, hyssop and crimson clover. I yearn for that day.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Odd Job, Bodge Job

Dry days have been hard to come by of late, so when Mother Nature deigns to hold off on the wet stuff for a succession of days, it's foolish not to take advantage of the opportunity to tick a few outdoor jobs off the list. Not every job can be a big job, but completing a selection of little jobs in and amongst some general pottering can be just as satisfying.

David's odd jobs tend to involve hammers, nails, a drill and assorted cuts of wood.

First, he built a chicken shelter. Having moved the chicken house away from rattus rattus and having increased the flock from four to eight, there was no longer sufficient space under the house to accommodate all the girls on rainy, sleety, haily, windy days. When free ranging they have access to a myriad of shelters; picnic benches, bushes, vehicles, trailer, wood shed, boiler room (if SOMEONE leaves the door open), but options are limited when they are confined to their run. If you've seen David's pig ark and sheep shed constructions, you'll instantly recognise the inspiration behind the chicken shelter design. David works to a very flexible design, easily scaled up or, in this case, down, depending on your sheltering needs. I'm calling the new chicken shelter the Bunker. Being low to the ground it calls to mind entrances to underground hurricane and air raid shelters.

The Bunker has inspired me to name the last of our new flock yet to be named. Dorothy. Hurricane, twister, over the rainbow, you see where I'm going .....

Back to David's handiwork. Some further rummagings in his wood stocks later, and the rotten boards of the raised veg beds were fixed. More hammering and drilling and the new compost bins rose up from the ground as if by magic. Give him tools and a pile of pallets and he's an odd job genius!

My odd jobs tend to involve paint brushes and procrastination. Whilst David hammered and constructed, all I managed to do was think about getting up a ladder to re-paint the top floor window surround (it was stripped of its expensive face lift by a particularly aggressive, perfectly angled hail storm), decide it was too cold to go that high up, and instead paint the pallets of the de-constructed and re-constructed chessboard ....

Oh yes, and I also painted the outline of some utensils. As you do. Don't ask. Just another crazy idea born of too much time trawling the internet on rainy days.

However, not every job that day was successful. Nest box checking and moving proved surprising tricky for the simplest job on the list.


The robin box just would not budge from its nailed in position too high up the tree. Hammer failed, screwdriver failed. Just one more pull was a pull too far. As I watched David fall backwards off the ladder, hammer still in hand, the world slowed down, giving me sufficient time to register the fact that he was falling, consider the outcome should he hit the ground, wonder if I should intervene to try to break his fall, and ultimately do nothing but watch gravity do what it does. Fortunately, things were moving faster in David's world, and so was his brain. As his feet left the ladder he had the good sense to inject a little impetus and so turn his fall into a leap, landing unsteadily but safely, hammer still in hand. We decided that was sufficient drama for one day and went inside for tea and cake.  The robin box remains in its position too high up the tree.

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