Decking – Part 3

This weekend we were on a mission to make headway with the never ending decking project. All the wood was at my Lovely Fit Chap’s (henceforth known as LFC) house, so there was just the ‘small’ task of getting it over to Chook Cottage.

He arranged to borrow a van from work, and duly arrived to pick me up on Friday evening. The van was massive – so maneuvering it around my narrow-ish street was no mean feat – but the boy did good, and we made it through the entire weekend with no mishaps whatsoever.

Decking wood

Just some of the wood to load up

Without further ado we whizzed across to his house and started the mammoth job of getting all the wood loaded up.  We soon had a brilliant system in place where he brought the wood to the van, and I stacked it up in an orderly fashion – so we knew where everything was at the other end. As well as all the decking planks, we had a big pile of rough wood to chop for the fire, and three sections of the old decking base which we planned to turn into raised vegetable beds.

These were first off the van at the other end and we positioned them on the slate garden I laid last year. I set about moving the slate and taking the weed membrane out of each section ready for the topsoil and eventually the plants to go in.

Raised vegetable beds

Raised beds in progress

Next off the van was the wood for the decking. As fast as LFC could unload the wood and bring it to the garden, I was busily putting it in place on the base, to make sure we had enough planks to complete the job. In no time at all, it was all down in rough and we can finally start to see how the finished project will look. I know I’m biased, but I think it’s going to look pretty darn good!

Rough decking

Rough decking

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Climate sparks a growth spurt

 

Salad leaves in tyres

Salad leaves in tyres

They say that everything in moderation is the key. Well, it’s certainly appeared to be the case in the garden. A bit of sun, a bit of rain, a bit of sun… and Hey Presto! The garden has positively burst into life and I am convinced that some of the plants have actually doubled in size the last week or so. On the down side the weeds have also started to pop up with a vengeance. So the first job of the weekend was to whip round with the hand hoe and finish them off whilst they are still tiny and easy to get out. Left to grow, they are nigh on impossible to get rid of.

Broad beans

Broad beans

Elsewhere in the garden though, it’s all good news. The broad beans are romping away, and the brassica bed is bursting with life. In the greenhouse, my courgette and squash plants were looking a tad big for their pots, so I decided to bite the bullet and plant them out. After the disaster with the runner beans though, I’ve erred on the side of caution and planted just half of them out, in case we get a late frost.

In addition, I’ve sowed mixed salad leaves in a tyre, to use as ‘cut and come again’ salad, but cheated ever so slightly. Whilst waiting for the seeds to grow, I’ve bought a tray of living salad from the supermarket, and planted that in there.

I’m also delighted to say that all six rows of potatoes have pushed through the ground and have lush, green leaves showing… which means it’s time to start earthing them up. This is simply covering the green growth with soil, ensuring any potatoes are well under the ground, and won’t be exposed to light. If the light gets to them, it turns them green, and therefore makes them inedible.

Brassicas and potatoes

Brassicas and potatoes

There’s just one tiny hiccup in our garden. We’ve had new raised beds and all the available soil we had has gone in them. So there’s no spare earth to be earthing up with. Luckily for me, our local garden centre sells soil that you bag up yourself, so off I whizzed at the weekend to fetch some for our beds. I have to admit I had a bit of a sweat on after I’d loaded up the bags, manhandled them into the boot, ferried them home and mounded the mud over the spud crop. Whilst I was busy with that, the other half whipped up and down the lawn with the mower.

I read an article in the week saying that gardeners can burn up to 19,000 calories per year. Apparently, three hours of gardening can be the equivalent to an hour-long slog in the gym, and just half an hour of weeding can burn up to 150 calories.

Good news indeed. With all that activity this weekend, we’re surely in calorie credit: That après-gardening ice cold beer positively slipped down – guilt free.

The Hinckley Times 23 May 2013

The Hinckley Times 23 May 2013

Slugs and spawn

Hear ye, hear ye… I have an announcement to make. But I will say it in hushed tones: “I think spring may finally be here.”

I don’t make this claim lightly – I’ve been gathering evidence. Out in the garden there are a number of things that suggest that we may finally have shrugged off the winter coats, and will soon be skipping around in our next season.

1.    I’ve found the first slugs
Whipping the cloche off the broad beans, I noticed tiny holes in some of the leaves. A good old rummage around at the base of the plants revealed slugs. No bigger than a fingernail, but they are there nonetheless. I’m hoping if I catch them early enough, they won’t mature into stonking great specimens, so I’m trying a couple of cunning plans this year. As well as setting beer traps for them, I’m sprinkling roughly crushed eggshells around the stems of any small plants. I’ve read that slugs find it hard to glide over the rough surface. We’ll see.

2.    We have frogspawn
The pond is alive with froggy love at the moment. Wherever I look, they are … ahem… ‘at it’. Coupled with that, there’s a massive clump of frogspawn in one corner. Now, going back to Point 1 above:  I thought that having frogs in your garden cut down your slug population. I’d heard that the frogs go out at night in search of tasty sluggy snacks. Our frogs evidently had other things on their mind this week. I will say no more…

A live sex show, courtesy of Mr and Mr Frog...

Froggy loving in the pond

3.    The greenhouse is going bonkers
Seeds that I planted months ago are finally popping up. I’ve got five kinds of tomatoes (one of them a mystery as the packet got wet and unreadable), courgettes, celery, cucumbers, runner beans, borlotti beans, chillies and aubergines. All very tiny at the moment, but they are there; they are healthy, and hopefully I can keep them all alive for the season.  Exciting times indeed.

tomato seedlings

Five varietes of tomatoes – including a mystery one


With all that extra growth going on in I’ve also been making sure that things don’t get overcrowded. I’ve split up my celery, onion and leek plants and replanted them in trays to give them a bit more elbow room. Some of the onion plants were a fair old size, so out they went into the garden. And they are not alone! The first of the raised beds is now full and complete, so into that have gone a row of purple sprouting broccoli, and two rows of cabbages. I’ve left room for some broccoli and cauliflowers that are in the greenhouse but are not quite big enough to go out yet.

Brassica raised bed

Brassica raised bed

The other two raised beds are now filled with a layer of rotted horse manure and yet more compost, and are now ready for some potato planting. I’ve been holding off doing this as the ground was simply too cold, but this week I’m going to bite the bullet. The spuds are going in.

Raised beds

Raised beds

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 18 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 18 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 18 April 2013

Sun starts action to start planting

This weekend I peeked out of the window and spotted a strange orb-like light in the sky. Hoping that North Korea hadn’t gone mardy with the rest of the world, I had another look. Happily, we didn’t seem to be on the brink of a nuclear invasion: the light in the sky was just the sun. I just didn’t recognise it for a moment.

With not a minute to lose, I shot off down the garden to crack on with some jobs. I’ve had the cloches on the soon-to-be legumes patch (peas and beans) for a week or so, to warm up the soil, so decided to plant some of these first.

Broad beans in toilet rolls Bunyard's Exhibition

Broad beans are ready to go in

My broad beans were a good old size, with a decent root structure, so two rows of these went in first, complete with their toilet roll plant pots. Next up were the Douce Provence peas that have been camping out in an old grow bag in the greenhouse all winter. I dug a hole the same dimensions as the grow bag, and managed to get them all out of the bag and into the ground, soil and all. As the weather isn’t quite tropical yet, I replaced the cloche tunnels to protect the plants from any nippy nights.

Douce Provence peas

Douce Provence peas

At this point, the other half joined me to carry on with Operation Raised Beds. In what seemed like no time at all, the last two frames were made and ready to be anchored in their final positions. I was quite prepared to just whack them down in a ‘rustic’ layout, but oh no… the Virgo in him reared its head. The path had to be moved three inches to the left, and the beds had to be in line with each other and an equal distance apart.

I do have to admit the meticulous approach paid off, and the raised beds look rather good – I can’t wait to get stuff growing in them. Wanting to get at least one of them in action, I set to work emptying the compost bins. Before long, I’d shovelled out two hefty barrows of compost, which went straight into one of the frames.

The raised beds

The raised beds

A quick trip to the garden centre, and four bags of topsoil later, and the first raised bed was complete. This year, this bed will be planted up with brassicas. I have a couple of rows of cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli that are ready to go in, but these have so far been in the greenhouse. Not wanting to shock them, I’ve put them under the cloches so they can get used to the change in temperature gradually, before I plant them up outside.

It’s still a bit cold to plant potatoes – the advice from others is that when it’s warm enough for weeds to start growing, it’s warm enough for spuds to go in. I know spring has been late arriving this year, but I do have high hopes that everything will catch up eventually.

The Hinckley Times 11 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 11 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 11 April 2013

Time to raise our game in the garden

With the news that family were visiting for the Easter break, and the (once again) chilly weather forecast, we didn’t hold out much hope of any gardening.

However, the weekend didn’t quite pan out to be the stream of gatherings and get-togethers we’d anticipated, but on the bright side, provided an ideal window of opportunity to tackle our raised beds project.

We’ve decided to install raised beds as we lost so many plants last year due to the continual wet weather. Raised beds should let excess water drain away more easily, should allow the soil to become warmer, more quickly, and should be an ideal shape and structure for us to net against birds and insects. Oh, and they should look rather smart, too.

As our vegetable bit of the garden is quite large, we decided to initially build the first raised beds on the lowest part of the garden.

The wood was delivered last week, courtesy of our cheerful farmer friend: nine lengths of 8ft planks. This would be enough to make three beds measuring 8ft by 4ft (or 2.44 m x 1.22m for the metric-savvy amongst us). They would be long enough to provide a substantial growing area and narrow enough to be able to reach all the plants without trampling all over them.

Staining the raised bed wood

Staining the raised bed wood

After staining the wood, the other half set to work. Sawing three planks in half to provide the end panels, he attached the ends to the sides using small angle brackets in each internal corner. We then knocked a length of wood (re-used from some old bed slats) into the soil at each corner to provide a sturdy anchor to attach the bed to.

A quick check with the spirit level, a couple of screws later, and Hey Presto! The first bed was made.

This is how it looked before…

Before the raised bed was installed

Before the raised bed was installed

And after…

DSC_1874 (Small)

I lined the bottom of this with a layer of cardboard. Apparently this should rot down, enrich the soil, and suppress weeds in the process. Next in went a layer of chicken coop waste, which we’ll follow with a layer of rotted horse manure. I’ll then empty the compost bins and spread that around, and judging from the size of the frames, I may well have to invest in a bit of top soil at some point too.

The garden is still too cold for planting, but I have stretched a couple of polythene cloches over parts of it to warm up the soil before anything goes out. The chill can’t last forever, so the better prepared I can be for start of warm weather, the better.

In other news, the cold snap got the better of Mildred, our chicken last week. She was fine one day, gone the next. Mercifully, she didn’t appear to have suffered and slipped away peacefully during the night – she was still perching in the coop when we found her.

So my final thought for this week is:  “Rest in peace, Mildred… you laid some cracking little eggs…”

The Hinckley Times 4 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 4 April 2013

The Hinckley Times 4 April 2013