The ‘Gardening’ category:

The final breakdown

June 5th, 2013

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Murray (my ride-on mower) has been rattling and puffing valiantly round our garden and field for over two years now, and for the last year I’ve been assuming he’ll snap something or conk out and that’ll be the end of him; he’s in pretty bad shape. Given the rate at which the grass is growing at the moment, being without a mower wouldn’t be a disaster but it would be a shame as the secret to nice grass is regular cutting.

I’ve been on the lookout for a Murray replacement but machines like this are expensive and I couldn’t bring myself to buy something expensive when I technically already had one. But on Sunday a bit on the cutting deck snapped which meant only one blade was cutting. I’d noticed a 2nd hand Murray for sale at my local agricultural shop so I went over there to buy the replacement part and to have a look at their Murray.

The part was 9€: I bought it. The Murray was 450€; I bought that too.

So now I have a lovely new(er) 12.5HP Murray mower with a grass collector on the back that’s in excellent condition (and was an absolute bargain), and an old knackered 11HP Murray mower that, once I’ve fixed the cutting deck, does work but I’ll keep as a back-up and for the boys to drive around on. It’s always a good idea to have a spare ride-on mower, don’t you think?

I’ve spent a couple of hours on New Murray this morning and he’s awesome. I’m rather chuffed with how this turned out.

A mountain of a molehill

January 16th, 2013

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 Our garden has been invaded by a mole. I know this because there are molehills everywhere.

According to my research all these molehills will have been made by one single mole. I haven’t done anything about it yet as Corrie isn’t keen on me killing it. And killing it isn’t easy. I’ve tried stuffing some mouse poison down a few of the holes but that was a stupid thing to do as it didn’t work and mouse poison is quite expensive.

I go out every couple of days to scoop up all the soil into a wheelbarrow and dump it onto the vegetable beds; I figure there’s no harm in topping up the beds with some fluffy top-soil. This will also make it easier for the grass to grow around the molehill sites in the spring. So far I’ve dumped about 20 wheelbarrow-loads of molehills into the beds – I reckon that’s about 500KG!

The molehill above is the biggest I’ve ever seen, absolutely massive! That’s me in the picture next to it, to give you an idea of scale.

They’re a bugger though these molehills, so I’m going to try to get some toy windmill things to stick in the mole holes. Apparently the vibrations drive the moles away. There’s an obvious flaw in this plan: our garden is quite big so using this method could simply drive them to another part of the garden. It’s worth trying though.

Anyone got any other suggestions?

Blossom, blossom everywhere!

April 7th, 2012

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No silly post this time, just a few pictures of the blossom in our garden: peach, plum, pear and cherry.

Cherry blossom

Cherry blossom

Peach blossom

Peach blossom

Plum blossom

A tiny carrot!

January 4th, 2012

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I pulled up some carrots for dinner last night, in the dark, in the rain. I hadn’t realised but I’d never pulled up carrots before; it is very satisfying! However, perhaps because of the dark or perhaps because of my inexperience, I wasn’t great at spotting which were ready.

(Please bear with me as I get back into the swing of blogging again; it has been a while.)

 

The world’s smallest tomato?

September 11th, 2011

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I picked this little fella yesterday. Perfect in every way other than size; it’s tiny!

After taking this photo I ate it and was slightly disappointed. Whilst it tasted nice the ratio of skin to flesh just wasn’t right and it had an unpleasant texture.

Here it is next to quite a large tomato, just for fun.

“What’s that you say? Yup, we are living the dream!”

Quick garden update

September 4th, 2011

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We’ve been having lots of sun and the occasional downpour recently, so the garden is going mental! At the moment we’re picking over a kilo of tomatoes a day – Corrie’s just about managing to keep up with the drying, blending and freezing.

Our courgette plants have mostly been uprooted as they were getting ridiculous. The peppers are looking good; we’re resisting the urge to pick them and hoping they’ll turn red.

There are loads of things we didn’t plant that are coming to fruition at the moment, including pears, peaches and grapes.

It’s exciting to see all this stuff growing, fun to pick it, and challenging to keep up with eating it all!

Courgette avalanche

August 4th, 2011

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I went out into the garden this morning to collect some courgettes and pattypans… and came back with 14KG of the buggers. Some of them were monsters!

We’re learning that ridiculous size and quantity are inevitable when you:
a) plant way too many courgette and pattypan plants
b) go away for a few days.

We’ll try to eat some of them, but most will be put aside for fun Christmas presents.

Tomatoes are not the only fruit

August 3rd, 2011

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Above is last night’s crop of tomatoes. There’s a mixture of varieties: cherry, big ones, yellow ones.

I know nothing about gardening; I don’t have any feel for it and anything I learn slowly trickles from my mind like water through sandy soil. Luckily for us Corrie is good at gardening and has a real knack for it. Surprisingly, given this natural talent, she has pink fingers. I’ll let her blog about all her gardening exploits since you’d quickly get fed up with me talking about digging and watering, which is all I actually do in the garden.

Picking stuff isn’t too difficult though, once someone’s shown you what to do. We’ve got mountains of courgettes and patty pans at the moment and they just require a quick slice of a knife to remove. The beetroots kind of picked themselves by growing out of the earth. And our garlic and onions were picked by Soren and his cousin Aminah during some sort of frenzied game which involved uprooting them, shouting ‘ROTTEN!’ and flinging them over the fence. The pears are literally falling off the trees, and the plums all fell off during a storm and got eaten by wasps. The strawberries are rarely unscathed by slugs but there are only about 2 or 3 ripe ones a week so it’s not worth worrying about. I’ve yet to pick any green beans or Borlotti beans as they’re hidden and I forget about them, and our sweetcorn’s almost ready but I think we’ll let Soren pick those. I occasionally pick some salad leaves, but not often enough as half a bed is overgrown with triffid-like lettuce.

So tomatoes. We’ve got 4 tractor tyres filled with tomato plants and several plants in a normal vegetable bed. There are hundreds of tomatoes, most of them green, but after a good bit of sunshine a lot of them ripen. If we get a lot of rain – and it’s either bone dry here or absolutely tipping it down – the tomatoes suck up too much moisture and split. I’ve been told they should ideally be sheltered from the rain.

We had a massive storm last night and in a lull in the rain I nipped out to rescue the ripe ones we’d spotted earlier. And that’s the photo above. They’re tasty, irregular, and some are split. I had a handful in a salad at lunchtime and they were nice, much nicer than supermarket ones, although most probably because they hadn’t been in the fridge.

If you need any tomato tips, feel free to ask using the handy comments facility below.

Food!

May 16th, 2011

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This morning’s gatherings from the garden:

It’s not exactly self-sufficiency, but I reckon we could survive on eggs and cherries if we had to…  It’s a start anyway!

Strimming like in those old days

May 10th, 2011

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As I’ve mentioned before, I love mowing the grass. I also love strimming but I don’t have a strimmer. I used to have an electric one that was pretty useless but still afforded me pleasure, so I was looking forward to getting a petrol one when we moved out here. The trouble is that getting one involved acquiring more stuff and that really doesn’t sit right with me, so I didn’t get one.

I was disappointed, but it was the right decision.

And today it dawned on me that I’d seen an old scythe in one of the barns: maybe I could ‘strim’ using that. I climbed up an old ladder into one of the barn lofts and came down with a rusty old thing that looked like it meant business. I gave it a few test swings and it felt good. I chopped at some tall weeds and it worked surprisingly well. I chopped down all the tall weeds round the back of the courtyard and it was a doddle, so I moved to the strip of verge outside our fence that the mairie’s mower couldn’t reach.

It worked an absolute treat! There were 2 problems though: I snapped the handle and I got stung all over by the flying nettles.

These days I enjoy breaking something as it gives me an opportunity to take it into my workshop to fix it. In I went with the broken scythe and a handle I’d seen up in the barn loft. I hammered and screwed and filed the blade sharp, and about 10 minutes later emerged with a scythe that I could be proud of.

I’ve just got to wait for the nettles to grow back to try it out.

The happiness of the long distance mower

April 27th, 2011

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I love mowing the grass.

At our first house in Cardiff we had a tiny yard onto which we put some turf: I cut this with scissors and later with an electric strimmer. At our second house in Cumbria we had 1/3rd of an acre so I bought a petrol mower and spent about 45 minutes every summer weekend going up and down the sloping garden making it look nice. And now, at our third house, we have just under 2 acres; too much for a push mower so I bought a 2nd hand ride-on mower for €400 and named him Murray since that’s what’s written on the side. Cutting the grass by hand wasn’t great, but once I’d graduated to a lawn mower I realised that I had finally found something that I enjoyed and was quite good at. Now I’ve moved up to the ride-on I am finally happy. I’m thinking of requesting ‘He loved mowing’ be carved on my gravestone.

Cutting the grass is a two-stage process: there’s the ‘field’ which takes about 1 3/4 hours and there’s the ‘garden’ which takes about 45 minutes. I genuinely look forward to doing it and am secretly glad if I can’t manage both in one go. I’m not entirely sure why I enjoy it so much; I liken the thrill of it it to riding a motorbike and doing something useful at the same time, but that doesn’t really explain it. There’s time to think, being outside, the machinery, the repetition, the repetition…. Whatever is it that’s at the heart of my love of mowing, it’s lush.

I walk over to the stable in which Murray sits, slide the bolts back, open the heavy doors and there he is: red, rusty and ready. I pop the hood to open the fuel valve, slam the hood closed, then climb on. There’s a mouse living in this stable (Murray Mouse) and he’ll usually appear and leg it up the wall and out the back at this point. Relieved the wildlife is out of the way, I put my foot on the clutch, select 4th gear, turn the key, and after a bit of protesting we’re off through the (narrow) doorway. A sharp right and through the gate into the field. I stop, lower the cutting blades and pull the ‘engage’ lever, select fifth gear, let the clutch out and now we’re off and cutting. I enjoy a sense of enormous well-being as I bump out into the field to cut my first line, gazing at the trees on the horizon, letting the shiny steering wheel wobble loosely in my hands. As I approach the end of the field I veer off to one side and then turn tightly back on myself to begin the return cut right next to one I just made, gazing at a brand new view that’s got some neatly cut grass in the foreground.

The ‘field’ was actually a field at some point so is pretty bumpy. Murray has no suspension and after a while my stomach muscles ache; I can now add exercise to the list of things I enjoy about mowing. There’s not really an art to what pattern to make with the grass, more a sensible and obvious route. I’ve yet to discover the best way to go and tend to zig-zag, go round and round, and occasionally reverse. I don’t suppose it matters as long as the grass gets cut, but I do have an underlying sense that there is a perfect route if only I can see it. Perhaps that’s how surfers feel about the perfect wave.

By the time I’m done I’m knackered and my back has seized up but I feel good. The grass looks good, it smells good, and I feel good: what could be better than that.

Shit heap update

March 15th, 2011

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For those of you anxious to know how the shit heap task is going, you’ll be relieved to know it’s completed! I’ve moved it 30 yards away from where it shouldn’t have been to where it should be.

As Gordon Ramsay would say: shit heap done.

Spring is almost here

March 14th, 2011

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We have had some beautiful warm sunny days since we arrived, and in the past week there are lots of signs of spring’s arrival in the garden.  Soren and I had a wander around looking at them this morning.

The cherry blossom is almost out in the chicken garden:

Some previously dead-looking trees have sprung into life.  I think they are pear trees, but they are ANCIENT so who knows whether they will manage to grow any pears.

The blossom on the peach tree outside our living room window is almost ready to open.  I am totally excited about having a peach tree and can’t wait to pick peaches from it.

Basically there is stuff growing everywhere, which is lovely to see….

It seems slightly odd for the trees to still be bare when the weather is so warm.  I suppose that is a sign that there is still plenty of bad weather to come – we have lots of work inside the house to keep us busy when that happens, but until then we had better get on with the never-ending digging!

Where’s the muck? On the grass

March 10th, 2011

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We’ve got a huge pile of shit in our garden. It’s meant to be there, although not quite where it is!

Our soil is very clayey, and whilst the area we’re working on was a vegetable garden in the past, it was a long time ago and it’s now all just grass and claggy clay. As we’re planning to grow lots of vegetables we need to improve this soil and break it up to give stuff a chance to grow, so whilst preparing the beds we’re incorporating lots of manure which we got delivered last Saturday by a local farmer.

I went over to see him a few weeks ago to arrange buying some cow shit off him. It definitely seemed like a weird thing to be doing, and I’m sure he was amused that someone wanted to give him €50 for a trailer-load of shit, but we shook hands (or at least I shook his wrist – it’s what French farmers and mechanics offer to shake instead of their dirty hands) and he went back to his milking. We’d agreed that he’d bring it round when the weather was dry so he wouldn’t spoil our garden with his tractor tyres.

Many, many dry days came and went and there was no sign of the farmer. Then one day we came home to find a HUGE pile of manure right next to our 2nd vegetable bed, right where the 3rd and 4th ones are going to be. We’ve worked as much as we can into these two beds, but there’s still loads of the stuff and it’s still in the wrong place.

So on our long list of tasks is ‘move the shit heap’. I moved a smallish pile the other day, then about 50 wheelbarrowfuls today and I reckon I’ve got another 40 to go. It’s not a nice job, although it’s very physical work that feels like it’s good for me. The worst bit is the 6″ platform of shit you get on the bottom of your boots every few steps.

And strangely, shit goes off a shovel rather slowly.