This is a simple factual record of what we were up to around the property, during the year 2018. It might serve as a prompt to us, as we become more forgetful, about what to do, and when. More importantly in the future, it may be an aid to whoever takes over as custodians of this very special property once we’ve left.
The garden won’t stay the same of course in future years – that’s simply never the case with gardens, and things evolve with time. But this record will try to capture some of the practical tips which we’ve learned from trial and error about how to look after this place, and land, in what is sometimes a challenging climate.
This is the un-glamorous, and sometimes tedious aspect of living in a place like this. The necessary graft which enables us (and you) to enjoy the views and scenes throughout the year which feature in my blog posts. The few photographs and style of writing on these pages reflect this – snapped quickly as a simple aide-memoire often after the tasks are completed, and simple typed up factual notes, before I’ve forgotten what’s been going on.
January Week 1:
Lifting and potting up some of our early snowdrops in perfect conditions – wet ground, and more rain forecast for the next 3 days. I use a homemade mix of roughly equal thirds of our own compost, rotted wood waste, (15 years plus of surplus logs rotted to a red brown friable substance) and a little bought in potting compost to which a generous amount of coarse vermiculite is added. Some snowdrops may be sold to garden visitors, others can be planted out later in the year in new locations.
Started on a proper new access path created behind the main block of the retyred matrix garden. Decent paths have become a necessity around the garden as winter weather conditions and wet ground otherwise make inspecting the snowdrops on a regular basis impossible. What to use as a surface is always tricky for our garden where resources and finance are limited. Here we’ll opt for on site produced wood chip, from the autumnal visit of Lampeter tree services to cut back trees from close to our electricity cables. Cutting back continues with the Verbena rigida stems on the lower copse slope, and by the spiral washing line base. Here too all the Miscanthus needs cutting back. If we’d tackled this before Christmas, I’d have avoided so many leaves being blown off, which makes things look really tatty, and take ages to tidy up. Apart from a bit of hand weeding through the year to remove fine grasses, this area requires almost no maintenance apart from this. The Miscanthus stems always get saved stacked in the green lane sheds – handy for bamboo stakes alternatives, or perfect for kindling.
A delivery of 4 tons of 3/4 inch chippings for the yard arrives from D. Lloyd and Sons at Pumsaint, now our preferred supplier – a family business since the 1790’s – and we begin barrowing it out and raking it level. It’s probably 6 years since we did this before and in spite of being careful about leaf and mud removal, the inevitable gradual silting up over the years had made the lower half of the yard too muddy to be acceptable.
Record and photograph snowdrops in flower throughout the week on a daily basis if possible.As well as keeping a check on whether any need snowdrops need splitting and dividing, if plants show any signs of disease, they are removed and binned (not composted) asap. So far this is a mere handful per season. I always wear disposable gloves to do this, and do it at the end of any snowdrop session. I thoroughly scrub the 2 pronged fork which I use for hoiking out affected bulbs, after finishing this job, and also try to minimise handling of any snowdrop flowers or leaves throughout the growing season to reduce the risks of cross contamination. Apart from when I hand pollinate flowers.
Throughout this time of the year, daily log and wood pellet replacements to keep the house warm are inevitable. In our opinion one can’t have too big a stock of prepared ready to burn fire wood, and kindling. (As we’ll discover in late February 2018!)
Fork over the whole of the by now well composted leaves in the insulated compost heap which warms the greenhouse, to the Easterly side. These went into the “reactor” in late October, and have dramatically reduced in volume. See my separate web pages on how this works. Then refill this compost “reactor” with the last big bag of covered chopped leaves, gathered in autumn, and soak with pee from a watering can. Just in time for extra heat for the return of another run of cold weather.
Continue cutting back dead honesty seed heads, and any remaining new growth to allow spring bulbs enough leaf light to grow well. Cut back shrubbery bed perennials. Remove all dead Saxifrage fortunei foliage from copse. This has rotted to a wet brown mush by now, and this year removing it showed evidence of mouse/vole predation of Crocus corms, which I’d completely missed…There are 2 or 3 times in the year, this being one, when such predation occurs. Growing Crocus varieties that seed around is really useful to help replace such losses, (many bought varieties set almost no seed, or are sterile so losses like this quickly leads to a dwindling flower display). Whenever I find evidence of such damage I use focused “organic” ferric phosphate slug pellets in these areas. My suspicion is that this gets eaten by the small rodents. Without some form of rodent control whenever such predation appears, growing Crocus in the garden would be impossible. Huge numbers of corms can be eaten very quickly, though the ones growing through the London Pride in this part of the garden were largely unaffected. A garden visitor in February commented that in their opinion, many C. chrysanthus forms are more highly prized by rodents than C. tommasinianus.
Continue the pruning/shaping holly “mushrooms” around the garden.
2 sessions of manual ditch clearing in our wet meadow with the ridging hoe.
On rare midday sunny occasions, I do some hand pollinating with a small artist’s brush of special snowdrops and Cyclamen coum flowers – there are almost no pollinating insects around here at this time of the year.
Prune apple trees and save clippings for future fire kindling in big bags.
Ground conditions are still generally very wet, so pot up some more snowdrops, and lift, divide and move around G. Atkinsii clumps. This is a sterile form and only by doing this division regularly do you end up with a great display in years to come. Always a wrench to do this after a clump has grown in size, but years of forcing oneself to do this is the reason we now have a good display of snowdrops all round the garden!
Begin digging out the land drain in front of cowshed. This area of the yard had silted up, become muddy and didn’t drain after heavy rain some 15 years or so from when we installed the land drain. So dug down, power rinsed off the granite chippings and re lay topping off with new chippings. Make a mental point not to store any plant pots on this area in future!
More holly mushroom shaping.
Session of pot hole filling on the access track. And more serious top dressing with road stone of the steepest section of the track. Never a fun job, but only by catching potholes small, and when you can see them after rain, can one prevent them quadrupling in size from vehicle wear within another fortnight .A real “stitch in time” job, and actually quite a good all round workout for a winter’s day.
Record snowdrops in flower throughout week.
Still great damp conditions for moving snowdrops, so lots more shifted and planted singly around the garden. A day trip out to Picton, with Roddy Milne, as part of my Welsh Historic garden hunt, and planting up on return. Lots more photography and recording of snowdrops, though at this stage of the season the emphasis is on getting the photos, and deleting the inappropriate ones. Uploading to the website will come later in the year. It’s a tedious task, but as with much else on this website, once it’s done, it won’t need repeating!
Turn over small compost heaps. Tidy up greenhouse, and remove leaf debris – always tricky to time this one, and often gets missed. Spread out another 5 tons of gravel onto the yard as top dressing. We’ve realised that once we’ve done this second ever top up, it’s really important to keep all debris off here – leaf clearance, wind twig fall and vehicle mud. Accumulating organic debris gradually covering free draining gravel areas is inevitable, but with care in this way, deterioration can be slowed dramatically. William’s help with all this physical work has been invaluable.
2 brief sessions with sunshine around noon enabled some hand pollination of both Cycamen coum and special snowdrop flowers.
Cutting back the now dead, and sap free, Euphorbia cupressoides. All Euphorbias are tricky poisonous plants with irritant sap. Tackling this now reduces the risk of skin blisters. Always wear gloves!
Work over the whole of the terrace garden hand weeding and removing any grass, and other classic nuisance weeds – willowherb, bittercress and creeping buttercup. Fine grass inevitably crops up here, but is gradually reducing. Probably birds and rabbit droppings bring in seed. Although it’s quite a big area, it only takes a couple of hours.This is about the last time in the year when it’s feasible to do this for a while as Crocus tomassinianus are beginning to emerge, en masse. It’s also moving into a time of the year, when wearing Crocs rather than boots, is very helpful in minimising damage to emerging bulb shoots.
February Week 1 :
Another sunny day to hand pollinate snowdrops and Cyclamen coum.
Finish edging around shrubbery border. Work is still limited to snatched periods when the rain stops. Clean out water barrels in yard, ready for the new year.
Still evidence of very limited slug damage on a few snowdrops, and particularly Sweet William plants in the terrace tubs. With the first Scilla mischtschenkoana flowers, and Iris reticulata flowers emerging in the garden (and these are slug delicacies), the second very light targeted use of organic Ferric Phosphate Sluxx slug pellets is laid out. The previous head gardener at Aberglasney told me years ago that if one got on top of slugs around Valentine’s day (the Valentine’s day massacre), you wouldn’t have a major issue later in the year. Now I’m not so sure, and tend to think that once a slug population has been reduced in a a garden, then regular low key use, when signs of damage are first noticed, is the best means of control. James Hitchmough reckons that slugs will recolonise an area from surrounding locations within 5 weeks. This definitely seems to match our observations here, where we’re surrounded by damp pasture.
February Week 2:
William spreads another load of stone chippings around the track at the back of the house, and we plant up snowdrops and other plants from a few days away, on our return. Fortunately the grey wet conditions are still perfect for this. A few days away…
February Week 3:
William begins digging out couch grass from the last side border of the lower meadow copse. This had been half created with Geranium macrorrhizum thrown onto the grassy borders 2 years ago. It’s now the last area of the garden awaiting creation. Shrubs and trees are in place. After getting out the worst of the grass, we’ll cover with cardboard sheets, weighed down with chopped leaves and grass clippings and wait another year, before adding in bulbs and ground cover – our approach to creating all areas of the meadow copse over the last 5 years.
It still being damp and grey, I begin the first session of hand weeding through the lower meadow copse. Hand weeding is the key to our style of gardening and it has always been as zero tolerant as possible – get on top of weeds now, and the surge in May will be far more manageable, though our other key aim is to create total ground cover with something – even moss – throughout the garden. Mulches or bare earth just don’t seem good ideas for us long term.
With just a few days to go until our first NGS garden weekend William and I spend a day lifting and potting up some of our named snowdrops bulbs – in the end we have about 20 different forms to sell. This should really have been done earlier, but at least the weather conditions were suitable – wet, grey, saturated ground.
The Friday before the NGS sees Fiona having designed and produced some really nice numbered arrows to guide visitors around. I make 28 suitable stakes and whack them in. There is now a safe designated route for everyone. Final tidying and titivating and the weather conditions mean that the garden does indeed look the best it ever has at this time of the year.
The actual weekend is our busiest ever with over 50 visitors in 3 slots. We’re exhausted by the end, but as always we meet some lovely people who all seem to enjoy the garden display.
Having suffered with rabbit predation of Crocus flowers close to paths in the terrace and daffodil walk areas of the garden, this year I’m regularly using my dominant male pee trick to deter them – applied from a watering can, ideally at height on vertical objects like fence posts/pots or splashed in dribbles at places on the slate paths. I have no idea whether this is the only factor, but this year, as I write, I’ve seen NO evidence of Crocus loss. It does need repeating every few days in wet conditions of course, but done in this very discrete way, leaves no discernible unpleasant smells for human noses!!
Fiona and I have a few sessions clearing out ditches in the bottom fields – always a really mucky job, but great for a full body workout after the enforced restrictions of this last grey wet winter.
February Week 4:
By the middle of week 3, the weather had flipped to severe cold, with harsh frosts and increasing bitter Easterly winds. This immediately limits outside tasks. Very recently planted snowdrops need daily watering with lukewarm water, during early afternoon to limit dehydration.
The cold weather means lots of wood ash accumulating so at least once a week this gets spread onto our hay meadows at this time of the year.
With forecasts of even colder weather to come, and with the windy weather drying up Zelkova leaves at the bottom of Cae efail, I turned over the far side of the compost reactor and collected 4 or 5 half bags of chopped leaves using the Li Ion lawnmower. This might give a degree of extra warmth into the greenhouse for the days ahead. Filled up in layers, with regular sprinklings of pee from the watering can.
More hand pollination of Crocus – in spite of the cold, the flowers are opeing around midday. Will it be too cold for viable fertilisation and pollen tube growth? Who knows, but I’ll do it anyway, since apart from a single mite encrusted bumblebee fleetingly seem and heard on February 20th, there will be no more now until early March, I guess.
I set up the trail camera on our upper pond too late to catch the first frogspawn on February 20th, but do film an otter visiting on February 23 rd, and then 2 otters on our stream 4 days later…
A few more private garden visitors to show round, and snowdrop hunt forays to keep us busy – though for the first time I’m now opting not to plant the bulbs straight out, such is the severity of the cold forecast for the end of the month running into early March. I leave them in the greenhouse instead.
Get chilled to the bone creosoting more Yorkshire boards to line a replacement path to be created down the central retyred matrix garden access, probably later in the year.
At last with surplus hot water, I can start the salt/treatment of our garden paths. This involves mixing 750 gm of table salt with a cap full of liquid washing machine detergent, and using piping hot water and a fine rose to water on. It is always done in about 4 phases, to avoid using all our hot water, but making the most of our Immerson’s ability to dump excess home generated electricity into our immersion tank, rather than sending it out into the grid. Since we have a new deeper layer of gravel on the yard and rear track, I hope that these areas will need minimal treatments this year.
In glorious sunshine, a lot of time is spent taking photos – the garden has never looked this good, and the images belie the extremely cold weather. But without this record it’s tricky to assess areas which need tweaking in future.
Wood procurement, sheep feeding and trying to extricate a delivery van that slipped off our access track blocking it for most of the day, adds to the interest. I have to do some late afternoon emergency track repair work after the van is finally hauled out. We tried to pull him out with our small tractor, but in the end he needed a large recovery lorry to manage it.
February/ March Weeks 5/1
After a week of freeze drying winds I use the BCS to top a few areas of soft rush regrowth and also the tussocks of both Molinia and Deschampsia in our wet meadows. There is little nutritional value grass in these fields at this time of the year, and it enables the spring regrowth the best chance to develop. Fortunately now, the volume of material is quite small, so no significant debris to be raked off. By now our stream was freezing over… Also no sign of any disturbance to our local otters which so far this year have visited the ponds and ditches at least 3 times at less than weekly intervals, given my trail camera records and snowy tracks found.
The last 2 days were so cold, and the ground so frozen that chainsaw work was the only outside option – cutting back many gradually falling old willows along the bank of the upper wet meadow. This not only lets more light into the stream, but also yields fire wood, will improve the potential area for hay making from this level field, but also provides some invaluable additional fodder for the sheep in this extended winter. I also reckon that spreading the branches out to ease access for the sheep to chew twigs and then bark also creates a degree of extra warmth to aid early grass growth once temperatures finally recover enough for this to begin.
In spite of the severe cold, the sunny weather has brought on flowering of the Tomcots in the greenhouse, so I spent a few minutes transferring pollen with a feather, around midday on a sunny day. Whether the blossom survives this year with the extreme cold, remains to be seen. In fact for 2 days with the worst conditions, I moved in a 250 watt tubular heater to add some additional heat. Our water barrels have never had such thick ice in them – this image taken 36 hours after the thaw set in…
We made a point of bringing extra wood and wood pellets inside the house in advance of the worst red weather warning for the area around March 1 st, and after a near miss with our water supply partially freezing in the Cart House treatment pipes, we’ll need to make a draught sausage for the doors in years to come. I ended up putting a tubular heater in there for a couple of days to aid defrosting.
After the severe winds, nearly a full big bag of debris was collected from the copse and stored as potential kindling, and a similar bag of birch twig debris raked up from the trees close to our upper pond. This will be perfect fodder for our Kelly kettle!
Much time was spent by me trying to photograph Snipe in the westerly, hedge protected ditches of our lower meadows, which throughout the big freeze, kept running and provided invaluable feeding opportunities for these very shy, flighty birds.
March: Week 2
At last the thaw set in, and I could plant out 2 batches of WHSH snowdrops which had been kept in the greenhouse for the last week, due to frozen ground. Fiona writes out slate labels so that they can be recorded both inside on our computer, and outside in the ground.
“Sow” saved tomato seeds onto damp kitchen towel and put in a Carte D’or box which is left slightly ajar above the Klover stove. They usually germinate in a few days. Bring compost inside to warm up prior to pricking out seedlings once the first leaves have just appeared.
Lilium seed were sown outside and covered with some remaining ice and watered in – quite late to be doing this, but at least they were spared the very extreme temperatures of last week.
More Tomcot flower pollination with my feather on a Miscanthus stem – I’ve found that in the moist environment of the greenhouse, one needs to shake off the ageing petals, or a Botrytis style mould will rot the developing fruitlets. Strangely this doesn’t happen with the Nectarine’s flowers and fruits. So I revisit the flowers every 2 or 3 days until all the petals have been knocked off.
Still quite cold – ice took days to melt, so I still do some Crocus pollination and even some late special snowdrops during sunny moments, since no bumblebees around. There is an extended season of Crocus blooms this year, with the deepest purple forms of C. tommasinianus flowering last.
I have another very intensive day of chainsawing with William along our stream margins. A huge amount of material gets processed with his extra help. He also removes the spoil from the dug out ditch and uses it as stream bank material.
A wet day on Sunday saw me moving and splitting more snowdrops.
March : Week 3
More Tomcot hand pollination, and knocking off petals. First nectarine flowers about to open – always about 10 days after the Tomcots.
Plant out tomato seedlings which germinated in about 7 days. Use old plastic food trays with holes in. Keep in greenhouse through day and bring in at night. Currently is no sign on the weather forecasts of daytime temperatures into double figures for the next month or so.
A sunny day meant a second salting of the year for our slate paths. Another session of pot hole filling with William on our track. I do some more hedgerow work with the Stihl Li-ion chainsaw, cutting back side ways growing hazel rods, and also laying some along our stream boundary hedge fence. William does some bramble pulling in the copse at the bottom of cae efail, and also removes the side walls of some of the Big Bags in the veg area, so that we now have a single big bag run of about 6 bags, with no wasted space.
A little bit more hand pollination of Crocus flowers, since today (13/3) was only the second time I’ve seen bumblebees around this year. 2 queens of different species.
Carry “Shepherd’s Hut sheeting materials up to the top of our top hay meadow, in preparation for construction. Move 3 drying big bags of storm blown larch twigs for kindling into barn mezzanine.
More hand pollinating of Crocus flowers. Although 2 bumblebee queens were spotted 2 days ago, I still have to find any bees actually inside a Crocus flower this year. Yet as the Crocus finally draw to an end after nearly 3 months of interest this year, at last I have an image of a single solitary bee inside the last few C. chrysanthus “Cream Beauty”, which I hand pollinated today (March 15 th). But it seemed more to be sheltering from the chilly wind. This year without my considerable efforts, there would have been almost zero seed set – the worst year ever. Finally on 16 th a very sluggish bumblebee visiting some of the last C. tommasinianus…
In advance of a heavy spell of rain I drive the tractor very slowly down the central track channel – there and back. Our vehicle is fortunately narrow enough to allow one tyre to track the channel perfectly. Doing it after all the hard recent frosts enables the tyre to create a nice central U shaped channel – after nearly a decade of doing this manually, it’s great that it’s now so easy. I always whizz down with the ridging hoe after this, to clear out the small chevron feeder channels, which feed into the central one.
After yet more wet days, another session of planting out WHSH snowdrops, and lifting and dividing more clumps within the garden.
Another session of preparatory hedge work later in the week in preparation for re-laying the hedge in 1 -2 years. After Fiona spotted our first toads in the upper pond, I relocate the trail camera, hoping at last to get a good video of otters visiting to predate them.
One benefit of the very cold and late spring is that hand weeding really hasn’t been necessary for months now, since our last sessions mid winter, pre bulb emergence. But with Fiona incapacitated, I began in earnest on March 16 th. I always enjoy this work, now that in most areas of the garden it’s less onerous after many years of rigorous zero tolerance. Being able to identify weed seedlings, and also self seeders which we allow wherever they pop us is key to this process. So here are some of the early ones we look out for…
Hairy Bittercress is always the marker species, and it’s pleasing that although some plants are well grown with quite large rosettes, I only spot a couple with the first tiny white flowers. Within 6 weeks a Bittercress plant can go from this point, to seedpods which split and fling seeds everywhere – so this single species really sets the maximum interval between re weeding all sections of the garden. In a couple of hours I manage to work through all the retyred matrix garden, and much of the Northern part of the meadow copse. 2 full whitewash tubs are the result, and as always Grass ( and Creeping Buttercup to top left)… Creeping Buttercup ( but not a Primula japonica to left)… Willowherbs… Chickweed… Pearlwort… and our more recent bete noire – Cleavers or Goosegrass… are the main culprits – the latter being the worst, since if these are missed after they develop even their first rosette of leaves, it’s very likely that the whole seedling won’t come up, the stem will break, and potentially regrowth will occur. But also noticing, and leaving the valued Welsh Poppy…Miner’s lettuce…Lamb’s lettuce…And Winter Aconite seedlings, and first year plants… A few other native weeds are allowed room in some areas of the garden, but not others, like Germander Speedwell… And Creeping Jenny…
Decide to stockpile hedge brash for chipping, so begin to bring some branches up every time I walk back from checking the sheep. Start with the closest branches then realise that the first cut, and debarked ones are much lighter. so shift those first.
With more strong drying Easterlies, I water all the most recently planted snowdrops at least once a day.
Spread the first 25 kg sack of dried seaweed meal onto the 2 fields below the house, which the in lamb ewes will go onto just before, and then after lambing. Spreading by hand in a strong Easterly is ideal – roughly a handful every 3 paces, with vertical passes every 3 paces, but avoiding field margins – the bag just about lasts. Timing of spreading this is tricky. Unlike inorganic fertilisers I’ve noticed that it first has to swell, and then degrades quite slowly, so I figure that although it’s still far too cold for good growth, it will probably be several weeks before the nutrients actually leach into the soil and can be taken up by the growing grass. Click here for a good review article on possible benefits of sea weed meal, or here for a simpler view.
After snow overnight, I realise that spreading the remaining 2 sacks onto our upper and lower hay meadows is much easier to assess how well I’m doing, with the snow covering – you can very easily pick out where the very fine meal has landed, and adjust down the handful size, for an even spread. Even so it’s quite tricky to make a single sack cover the whole field, but given its price, (about (£42 per sack), it’s not really viable to use more than this. The suggested coverage of 70 gm per square metres would amount to about 10 sacks per acre! I really do question whether this figure is correct, given its price!
Cut back the giant Miscanthus stems above the croquet lawn, chop into kindling sections in a Big Bag. Another salting session – on the cobbled paths this time, after a sunny day, and maxed out hot water by 2 pm. Begin to weed over the veg garden Big Bags. First daffodils at last flowering up here – several for the first time – Peeping Tom, Toby The First.
With it continuing to be Arctic, the tomato seedlings need carrying out to, and back from the greenhouse morning and night. More Nectarine flower pollination – most Tomcot petals have dropped now.
March Week 4:
Complete the first complete hand weed of all areas of the garden.
More bramble thinning in the dog’s copse – the first real time spent in here since the trees were first planted – maybe 15 years ago? More cutting back of peripheral hedge wands chucked into the field for extra fodder.
More scattering of wood ash in the fields.
Tidy and clear some of the wood store bays in preparation for lambing.
Prick out and pot on the tomato seedlings – a daily chore of carrying them into and out of the greenhouse each morning/dusk.
Begin the spring tidy up of the Big Bag bottle bank area – weeding, removal of last vegetables.
Last session of pollination of nectarines – all the flowers have now turned red at their centres, indicating fruit set. The baby Tomcots are at last beginning to swell. Watering of the greenhouse plants is now necessary on sunny days.
March/April Week 1:
Finish bramble pulling from copse. Continue to drag up brash/branches from lower fields for chipping later on.
Clear last of mud debris from access to green lane. Lambing begins of March 31 st. Earlier than last 2 years, but thank goodness no earlier in this horrendously wet and cold, late spring.
The one advantage is that weed growth is still slow, and on rare mild damp nights, there really are almost no slugs evident outside – the first time ever I can recall this, for this late in the spring…. Buy agricultural food manufacturers, but sell slug treatment stock…
Continue with tidying work in Big Bags. After weeks of waiting, I give up with vegetable sowing outside and pre-germinate lettuce, beetroot, leeks and parsnips inside on damp kitchen towel in plastic containers. the lettuce germinates in 24 hours and is ready for planting up in just 48 hours. After 48 hours the beetroot is ready as well, though not quite as advanced. All will go in the greenhouse for growing on, and probably brought inside overnight, since there are still risks of frost for the foreseeable future, and really these seeds now have some catching up to do.
First lamb arrives on the last day of March, heralding a much busier time with the sheep!
April Week 2:
More lambs arrive during the first full week of April. The garden comes in second place at lambing time. We’ve also learned the need to become familiar with the young lambs early on, so try to bring each ewe inside for at least 36 hours, and then in at night with the lamb for another week. The inevitable close contact with both ewe and lamb, and the inquisitive nature of the lambs means they quickly become tolerant of us. 2 years ago, lambing even later we left them out in the fields – apparently a labour saver, but we’ve ended up with 2 or 3 flighty ewes which will follow others, but not even come to a bucket yet. If like us one uses a carrot system for moving sheep around, having friendly calm ewes is vital. By the time the lambs are 2 weeks old , the battle is won or lost…
The second circuit of hand weeding continues.
At last one or 2 slugs are obvious at night, so very limited slug treatment is used around perimeters and sensitive plants ( eg Clematis shoots, and Erythronium).
2018 is so different to 2017 – particularly with regard to daffodil flowering. Some sterile cultivars like “Thalia” seem to be flowering quite well, but many early forms have performed very poorly – eg “Topolino and “Tenby”. Both of these set a lot of seed, and I never dead head. I also notice that April 2018 was a very low rainfall month, and since flower buds for the following year form immediately after flowering (in daffodils) it’s possible that water shortages at root level impacted on flower bud initiation.
Pot up more pre-germinated vegetable seeds – leeks and beetroot.
William and I have an intensive section forking out couch grass from the remaining section of the meadow copse to be tackled as it transforms into garden proper. And quite a discussion on what are weeds, and what aren’t in this part of the garden. I resolve to create a photographic database of weeds to help him with identification.
First lawn cut at the end of the second week of April, including the path through our high meadow. Precious little height to take off – the latest period for grass cutting I can remember. The weekend is dominated by the arrival of 7 lambs in 36 hours. But great delight that they’re all doing well and are the best batch we’ve ever managed. Well done Greenodd and Gwaur – our identical twin ram lambs who had a brief fling with the ewes before they moved on…
April Week 3 :
A lot of time spent with young lambs. Feeding, water supply for ewes ( the only time of the year, really, when sheep need – or take-water), tickling. Mucking out every week or so – we use our old hay from 18 months ago as bedding, which works fine and can be topped up regularly, but after a week or so, it really needs replacing since ammonia levels begin to rise. Not good for little lambs resting at ground level.
Finish thinning the Tomcots and removing sepal/petal debris from the flowers. In addition I now squish any snails I find in the greenhouse, just after dusk. In previous years I’ve found these will graze the outer surface of forming Tomcots and nectarines and wreck the fruit. I also try to water occasionally in the borders – lack of, or uneven water supply also affects forming fruit and can cause fruit splitting. A single missed night when I didn’t bring in the young lettuce saw a tenth taken out, probably by a single slug. So some pellets get scattered in here as well. Outside, slug numbers are miniscule – the first year I can ever recall this state of affairs. But occasional signs of petal damage on daffodils in big bags persuade me to do a peripheral cordon sanitaire around the garden, after a day of heavy rain, and warm temperatures. My feeling is that after such a slug population crash, recolonisation from the fields will be the most likely cause of problems ahead.
Rake up hay debris from around the field hay feeders – grass is finally beginning to grow and we shall need every bit we can get, this year.
Use cardboard and the first grass clippings to begin to cover some of those areas where W & I have removed all the couch grass et al.
I’ve noticed very few insects visit either Anemone bland, or A. nemorosa, so I spend time on a sunny afternoon with my paint brush, encouraged by the sight of lots of seedling Anemone leaves around the garden this year. Such pretty flowers, at an in between time of spring awakenings.
W & I spend time tidying up the Big Bag area of filled water bottles. Wedding beds, paths, and taking out last few winter veg. At last it’s looking fairly tidy (for me!).
l paint some more Yorkshire boards with creosote ready to tackle the central veg garden path once visitors have finished for the year. William brings out all the Pelargoniums and other pots from the greenhouse, and pots on the best 30 tomato plants into 5 inch pots.
I salt the front and slate terrace paths again, since there’s a crops of tiny seedlings just emerged, and we have a day when the PV and Immersun has maxed out the hot water in the immersion by mid day. This seems to be the third salt treatment of the year so far.
With our final garden open weekend, I cut the grass for a second time, and do the usual sort of final garden tidying, putting out of signs, etc. and cut some flowers for our outside glass bowls before folk arrive. For once both Saturday and Sunday are reasonable days – Saturday being both warm and sunny.
April – Week 4:
More photography of both recent additions to our daffodils and Primula sieboldii. We’re lucky in having the UK’s best supplier locally of these dainty Japanese primroses (Farmyard Nurseries), and we spend another miserable wet cold afternoon visiting Richard and his collection where the stock plants in the polytunnels look magnificent. The ones planted outside in the lower meadow copse are just beginning to flower, and have bulked up really well and survived the horrendous freeze drying in March, when leaves were above ground.
At last Fiona’s neck has improved enough to be able to do some work in the garden – weeding out an area at the bottom of the lower meadow copse, cutting back willows – late this year, and then using the straightest to redo some path edging, which helps prevent bulb leaves flopping into the paths.
Lots more hand weeding, and another whole day trying to remove remnants of couch grass from the Geranium macrrorhizum in the lower meadow copse – this has worn me down, but it is at least the very last part of the garden to be worked on. William cuts back the willows in the hedge, and strims the old chicken runs.
Together we spread cardboard sheets over all the areas meticulously weeded out, and weigh this down with remnants of bark chippings and cut grass. I really don’t want to have to do this sort of tedious work again.
Late in the day, we realise that we can’t be too relaxed with some of the areas of Celandine in the lower meadow copse if we want to establish more delicate things like the Primula sieboldii – so I dig as deep as possible with the long handled de Wit weeding tool. At least I manage to finish the job before this year’s seed gets dropped.
I mow the hay meadow path again. It’s shocking how little the grass has grown here in the 3 months the sheep have been out of it. Unless things warm up soon, we’ll have a very poor hay crop this year. But a real delight is me finding perhaps 40 small Early Purple Orchid plants on the upper hay meadow bank from seed which Anne had kindly collected from her woodland near Pumsaint about 6 miles way (as the crow flies). Betony seedlings are also obvious for the first time, and the Violets I scattered seed of years ago are now producing a scattered blue-purple haze…By this time of the year, we’re both feeling knackered – a niggling respiratory infection picked up from visiting grandchildren has hung on for weeks. One needs to allocate time between garden work and lambing just to savour how special this place is! Towards the end of April is a good time to do this on a sunny day…
May – Week 1:
Chainsaw back the ash and hazel above the greenhouse – probably not been done since it was installed, and has increasingly shade this area.
Potted on some recent Primula sieboldii additions. Will grow on through summer and then plant out. Also use a really fine brush tp hand pollinate some flowers. I reckon for long term viability I need to have a big swathe of seedlings available to plant out, and currently I see ( as with many other Primulas) very little in the way of obvious insect flower visits.
Continue dragging brash up from lower fields for chipping in a couple of weeks.
Much more effort hand weeding – nearly worked round the whole garden for the third time – as always reaching some areas of Hairy Bittercress just in the nick of time. Around now the emergence of mass seedlings from plants like candelabra Primula types, and Foxglove makes one wonder whether to throw up your hands and give up – but hopefully increasing perennial new season foliage, and drier conditions should mean the worst is nearly over for the year.
Continue to work out how to manage the wormeries – store compostable material in a separate lidded tub, then make up a layer about once every 10 days, tipping the lowest level back into the compost reactor.
Very late in the day ( because its been so cold) I plant out pregerminated Parsnip seeds, and sow some squash/courgettes. Bring in at tea time and sit on the stove, then carry out to the greenhouse mid morning to try to get the necessary warmth for germination.
I cut back/lay the hazel and ash due West of the greenhouse on top of the bank. Probably never been done since the greenhouse was constructed, so immediately more light can get in.
After 6 months with no ommph to get started, William and I finally begin to construct the walls for the planned shepherd’s hut (SH). The first day goes really well, and already a side and end wall frame are finished and other timbers cut to size. The recently acquired Makita Li ion circular saw, and large set square are an absolute boon.
William trims back the hedge along the Big Bags/PV area.
I plant out a few tomato plants into the big pots in the greenhouse, then realise I should cut back engulfing nectarine and tomcot foliage, so do this and complete thinning out the nectarines.
The grass needs another mowing, at last having grown well. With a very sunny weekend, the paths get another salting too. (?) Number 4 of the year – but very little sign of weed seed germination this time round.
I tie in/ cut back several of the rambling roses in the lower meadow copse – there’s a small window of opportunity to do this, before the new growth becomes so vigorous,a s to be impossible to achieve.
Fiona spot weed treats nearly all the Marsh thistles in the fields in all the meadows, it being a warm sunny day, and great for plant growth. I manually weed wipe rushes and mare’s tails in the upper wet meadow. Togged up in waterproof gear, marigolds and respirator/solvent mask, I’m dripping after 3 hours in the late afternoon sun.
Finish cutting the grass, and haul off the debris from my greenhouse hedging for chipping.
First session of plant watering after several hot dry days.
Fiona and I have a session cutting out grooves for the floor joists for the shepherd’s hut base. Lots more photography given the special light. Including some brilliant photos of a Bee Fly pollinating the Primula sieboldii.
Continue to mulch with mown grass over cardboard sheets around the weeded out areas of the lower meadow copse.
William and I have another good day working on the shepherd’s hut construction and base levelling. Only to discover late in the day we need to dig further back into the top field bank to get the chassis to fit onto the sleepers.
Watering of tomatoes, and damping down in greenhouse is now needed most days. Finally make the third weed out of the last section of the garden, the lower copse and discover 2 or 3 enormous Hairy Bittercress plants about to fling seeds around. Lots of bluebells now germinated and flowering in this area – well worth scattering the seed all those years ago, even if it takes years for flowers to appear!
A second day this week with William, painting internal plywood sections of the shepherd’s hut (typical belt and braces), and final finessing of the ground levels of the hut base means we should be ready to try moving things into place and initial assembly next week…
May-Week 3 :
I continue to paint sections of the shepherd’s hut.(SH), and predrill holes for the coach srews in the side and end panels, hoping I’ve got them in the right places!
Fiona and I manage to very slowly pull up the chassis and timber floor base using the chassis draw bar late on Monday evening when the grass was dry and leave in across the slope, ready for pulling onto the sleepers with extra hands tomorrow.
I discover the first Crocus seed capsules have popped up, and collect a couple, but also collect Anemone nemorosa seeds, still green and crumble off the knobbly seed heads, and scatter in new areas around the copse/meadow copse.
William and I, fortunately aided with help from Fiona and Dave ( who was here to photograph the robin) then manage in a single day to pull the base onto the sleepers, drag up all the prefab. end and side panels, assemble the floor sheets and base and coach screw together the side and end panels before lunch. After lunch we screw on the metal side and end sheets, and lift roof sheets into position, and hold down with ropes as temporary fixing. Within a day, we have what does indeed begin to look like a shepherd’s hut, but still a lot to complete. I’m both elated that it all fits together, and we managed it so smoothly, but also bushed. good job we tackled this now and not in another few years as I couldn’t have managed it physically.
That evening we get news that Andy Lewis is sending over Owen to chip our brash, and Rhyddian is dropping off the ribs for the SH roof, and oak boards for the floor. What was planned as a recovery day before a CHG meeting ends up being nearly completely exhausting – dragging up extra brash, etc and lugging up all the new timber to base camp 1 in the hay shed. Owen also has time to fell a couple of overhanging ash trees to the North of our upper hay meadow, and log up the main trunks. Still a very successful, CG meeting with supper before, here with Richard Bramley who delivers a brilliant talk on Primulas ( particularly P. sieboldii) which he’d put together in only about a month.
Thursday sees me and Fiona designing a fanlight window shape for the SH gable ends and taking it into Lampeter joiners for an initial quote. More hand pollinating of P. sieboldii with a tiny brush, and this time I discover (since I switch to my reading glasses) that perhaps only 15% of the forms are the more fertile Pin form. In the evening Fiona and I sort out all the odds and sods left over bits of Celotex from the barns and take them up the hill for SH floor/wall insulation.
William joins us for a second day, and helps lug up the oak boards to the shepherd’s hut, cuts the grass and spreads some 3/4 inch chippings on the yard. I allow myself time to visit Richard Bramley and buy some more P. sieboldii.
The stunning weather sees me cutting our first batch of hay on Saturday, and some more on Sunday – very light growth, but wonderful to cut in proper dry conditions for once, and so much easier to handle – we just rake up into windrows, and roll these over once a day.
On Saturday I also chainsaw up 2 boundary ash trees’ minor limbs, which Owen had felled on Wednesday, and cart all the logs to the field margin. My hay cutting has to skirt these piles of brash and twigs.
Keep the hay turned through Monday and more carrying of feather boards up to the SH. Fiona and I sort and lay out the oak boards which are a little variable in quality, and end up cutting down to size and matching up. The first tomato flowers open, so I fit a new battery to the vibrator and get buzzing. The toms. are looking the best ever – in spite of late sowing. maybe the switch to Bathgate J.I. based compost? Or using addition of worm city liquid when watering? Or even cutting back the foliage to the East, so more light? I continue with efforts to rid the greenhouse of snails which once again have been stripping off the surface of a few nectarines. Torch light squashing and metaldehyde seem to be taking numbers down.
Tuesday sees William back and another session on the SH. Minor panic when the temporary brace which we had in place at the front, pending knocking up the doorway frames, has its fixing screw removed and the whole SH side walls ping inwards by 6 inches. It takes about an hour of fiddling to get them forced back under tension into position, and a new 3X2 top support secured in place. We then progress slowly with making the front frames, and finish the day by bracing and fixing the front top curved panel, and nearly completing the rear one. Meanwhile Fiona spends much of the day dragging down the piles of ash brash to the bottom of the field, and collecting 2 big bags worth of ash twigs to be kept for kindling. After he leaves we have a c.o.t. and then get all the hay into big bags which I drag down to the hay barn where we sit them on pallets… a very long day! I make a note to cut a swathe through the middle of the filed next year, so that at this stage, big bags can be hauled across the slope, rather than down and back up to the hay shed! (This is the first year we’ve had the hay shed to store the big bags in.)
I have a morning out for a CMG site visit – 3 hours in blazing sunshine wasn’t ideal after yesterday in the evening we make space and reorganise the hay shed, and the hay has dried a lot more over the day so we amalgamate big bags – wonderful stuff, probably the most nutritious we’ve ever made, and interestingly te aftermath is already regrowing really well. Later I paint exposed east facing timbers with primer, and Fiona makes some temporary black plastic covers for the ends, with rain forecast overnight.
Thursday being drizzly sees us both doing some serious hand weeding. Its always tricky doing a big project AND haymaking AND maintaining a necessary weeding routine at this time of the year. At dusk I do a slug count round the mown upper hay field path. Only 14 counted on the path on a mild damp night. Previous years would have seen hundreds!!
Friday was planned as shearing day, but was wet all day, so I work through the lower meadow copse weeding, pulling out the couch grass for about the sixth time! At least I’m now winning, and put out some more cardboard onto bare earth patches here. I pot on some Prim.sieboldii and plant out a few recently bought Podophyllums in the cooler damp conditions, then tie in the tomatoes again, and buzz.
More work on the SH – fixing floorboards. Fiona continues with hand weeding in tyre garden.
May – June Weeks 5/1
Fiona sands skirting boards for SH and I fix, then cut the remainder of the periphery of our upper hay meadow. Looks like 3 dry days. Manually spread out later in the day. A perfect hay making day – hot, sunny, and a decent wind.
By Tuesday morning the forecast has changed to just give us today dry, with rain overnight! So we turn it all 3 times with the Mini Molon, from about 12 pm, when overnight dew has evaporated. The MM puts it into big wind rows – fortunately the sun is out by midday and a vigorous wind, so it dries almost to completion, but still slightly damp. It’s much easier to collect into big bags from these bigger windrows, which we do after supper – 18 big bags in about a hour and a quarter, including dragging down into the new hay shed. Some are sufficiently damp to probably need tipping out again on the next dry day. This year with the hay shed, we’ve stacked the bags straight onto pallets covered with chicken wire. The previous batch of hay from earlier in May has now been tipped out to dry even more – directly onto the pallets. It actually holds its Big Bag shape shape pretty well, and will allow us to cram even more into the available space, as well as allowing much better air flow through the hay, and final drying to complete. No sign of any heating.
This ended up being false optimism! With 4 overcast muggy days it wasn’t until Sunday that we could drag all these bags out. There was evidence of water droplets forming on the surface and real heat lower down. Over the next 5 days these bags were repeatedly emptied and tossed on the big tarpaulins, and covered at night. In the end the hay was all saved. hard work, but a lesson well learned about the perils of potential hay fires – particularly with hay cut this early when there is much more leaf, and less already dried stems.
Fiona starts cutting the mitred ends for feather boarding cladding for the SH.
The squash and courgettes get planted out.
More hand weeding needed – 3 of us on this all day on Friday, concentrating on removing Cleavers/Goosegrass from the lower meadow copse hedge bank, and me doing more intricate hand weeding from the newly created lower meadow copse bed. when we get a call from Richard that he’ll come to shear the sheep in the afternoon. Thunderstorms were forecast for later in the day, but we escape, the sheep shear well, and behave themselves impeccably. At last the flock which has been separated for months, from pre-lambing into pregnant and non pregnant, are re-united. Suddenly 36 mouths seem a lot to feed with little rain now for several weeks!
Evening watering, mainly of plants in pots, is now taking a significant time. The dry spell reminds us of how things used to be in West Wales!
On Sunday morning more hay was cut and turned in the steep upper hay meadow. An orchid and 2 new Knapweed were avoided. A perfect hay day – hot, sunny and windy. Just as well, since as always the forecast 3 clear rain free days had been changed to just 2 by later in the day. Suddenly on Sunday the garden explodes with insect life – more bumblebees than ever before, and influx of hundreds of Silver Y moths. The synchrony of flowering this year of Aquilegia, Nectartoscordum, Geranium macrorrhizum means that at least early on the Cotoneaster flowers are ignored!
June – Week 2:
We work the hay in the upper hay meadow and with threatened rain overnight, get it all into bags, as perfectly dry lovely hay within 36 hours. We’re still working to dry out the hay from last week, turning and drying the hay on the tarpaulins! It takes 4 more days of daily turning on a giant tarpaulin to achieve this.
We also manage to fix well over half the feathered boards on the inside of the SH
Tuesday sees William return for a big push on the SH. We take the roped down roof sheets off, cut notches for the ribs in the central and side purlins/wall plates. Fix the ribs in place, then the wall plates get screwed down to the side panels. These get quickly primed on their upper surfaces. The pre-primed plywood sheets are cut to width, then have to be flexed inside pretty forcefully and offered up to the ribs, and temporarily fixed with small s/s screws. Finally insulated bubble wrap gets draped over the primed/painted plywood, and then the corrugated roof sheets are replaced and drilled and screwed onto the outer angle of the wall plate, using a string line to make certain we hit the right spot. At last the roof structure is fixed and should be water tight! We get the last screws fixed as 5 pm arrives and William leaves us. A real sense of achievement.
With the now mirage of forecast rain shifting, (how rare it is to write this, and not the mirage of dry weather), I cut the first quarter swathe of hay in the lower hay meadow before a late supper. Watering then takes us to bedtime. These are full tiring days!!!
We bring the sheep in again and trim the hooves on a quarter of the ewes – we’d missed doing this at lambing time, and probably last year as well, so very overdue. We’ll do it with a few per session over the next month.
Fiona cuts the grass. At last I manage to weed out a Big Bag bed and sow 3/4 of it with carrots, onto a layer of fresh compost covered watered and then seed covered with a fine layer of Bathgate compost, and watered in well. I’ve found this approach really limits later hand weeding. It’s so dry though that I water daily now, and spread a few slug pellets locally just in case.
Fiona heads off mid week, so I’m left to bring in the first batch of hay from the lower meadow (13 Big Bags), just before a light shower, and then cut another swathe on Wednesday evening. Once more the weather forecast immediately changes, and the 3 dry days turns into not even 36 hours. Having dried well through Thursday, and being turned mechanically twice, last thing at dusk I decide to go down and manually row it up into quite tight windrows to shed the expected rain. Just as well since the next 48 hours it just sits there, as we have a total of about 6 mm of rain.
The rain isn’t too troublesome for other jobs, falling mainly overnight and allows me time to do some much needed catch up hand weeding, as well as planting up the terrace tubs – this year trying Salvias, Pelargoniums, Scabious, Borage and Knautia – several bought in as plugs and designed to be good for pollinators.
Several of the tomato plants need re-staking with taller Miscanthus stems. The plants have never looked better.
By Sunday the rain has stopped. I shake out and spread the hay manually first thing, ( 3 times as long to do this, but more careful), then twice mechanically, and we end up bringing it in on Sunday evening. Given all the rain, it’s in remarkably good nick. Relief all round before a few days away for a mini break, that it’s only early June and we now have over half of the hay fields cut.
I plant out the first few leek plants and water in well – not enough time to get them all done and with hot weather forecast for our days away I’m loathe to risk doing more until our return. I do another salting session of the periphery of the yard.
June – Week 3:
A mad session before we leave on Monday, watering everything, dead heading the Pyrennean Valerian ( a lovely plant but a thug for seeding and swamping everything else out), and general tidying.
Our return sees 6 mm in the rain gauge which is really welcome – the stream is still as low as we’ve ever seen it. So more watering of the greenhouse, but other things can wait. More hand weeding, then as the grass dries, Fiona cuts the lawns again and I manually weed wipe the soft rush in the long, higher wet meadow. The sheep have now grazed this quite short, and taken out (as they do) all the sharp flowered rush foliage so treatment is quite easy though laborious – togged up in waterproof kit in sunshine it takes me about 3 hours to complete, but this is much less time than in the past. It is now spot treatment.
By Saturday the orchid count in the upper meadow has reached 68! An extraordinary progression from the single flower 5 years ago (1,1,4,14,68 and counting…). At this rate we’re due for hundreds next year. I even find one flowering in a section of peripheral meadow which got cut in mid May on the second haymaking session. Mainly in clusters in 5 discrete areas of the field, for now.
I collect seed pods from Narcissi, and scatter some of the N. pseudonarcissus seed mixed with a little compost, in the meadow around the shepherd’s hut. I also scatter some saved Fritillary meleagris seed in the same way in the upper wet meadow. With any luck these may have a chance to germinate when slug numbers are still low, and get a year under their belt before slugs recover.
Pull back encroaching plants from the terrace slab edges, deadhead the purple leaved Euphorbia ( another lovely plant, but one which otherwise becomes too dominant), and salt the slate and main cobbled paths again. Make a mental note to wear marigold gloves for handling Narcissi/Galanthus seedpods ( stomach cramps otherwise), and for cutting back the Euphorbia (in spite of wearing other gloves, but T shirt), I end up with a couple of blisters from this very irritant plant.
Will & Jo join us for the weekend, and when walking round the fields we take the De Wit long handled weeder, which Will seems to have a natural ability for grubbing out Marsh thistles in no time at all…