Our Gardening Year

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.

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!)

Week 2:

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.

Continue with making steps and the access path behind the tyre garden, and spreading chopped bark mulch, from on site.

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.

Record/photograph snowdrops in flower throughout week.

 

Week 3: 

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.

Week 4:

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.

Any spells when the Crocus flowers open, is spent with me hand pollinating the flowers. This has been such a successful project, and I’ll continue until we see decent numbers of emerged bumblebees.

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.

More use of the rabbit deterrent from my watering can.

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…

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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 those areas where W & I have removed all the couch grass et al.

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.