Tag Archives: home improvement

Spring. It’s Surely Now Here!

Spring Violas. They made it through the snow.

Spring Violas. They made it through the snow.

Spring is finally on its way, according to the weather forecast. Warming up this weekend, or at least the Easterly wind reducing in strength. So at last we might be able to contemplate sowing seed outdoors soon. The snow has now gone from the garden, thankfully, though in northerly aspects on the fields it remains.

My son came over yesterday and helped me complete the clearing of the bed near the house I’ve decided will be a good vegetable starting point for this year. It’s higher, being closer to the house, so better drained, easy to access from the patio and therefore easier to water and harvest. There’s a water butt very close by and outdoor tap should I need it. Here I will plant the broad beans I sowed last October and are now desperately in need of planting. I’ve put a tunnel cloche with fleece over the newly invigorated soil. It’s been cleared of builder’s rubble, thoroughly aired, stones and old tree roots removed and every weed removed. It’s also been protected from the cold by covering it loosely with plastic sheeting since before the snow. This has kept it relatively free of frost and will consequently be warmer to put my young plants in.

A Work in progress. Tunnel cloche up.

A Work in progress. Tunnel cloche up.

I then added loam made from last year’s turf stripping that has been stacked and covered with old carpet ever since. So my beans and garlic plants, in modules since October, can finally go in. I’ve also got rhubarb to plant, though that will be in the lower bed that drowned last year. I’m raising it using gravel boards (very cheap) and praying for a better growing year with a more moderate rainfall. There is a lot to do.

I’ve also had a rare brainwave. I’d bought some little plastic balls designed to connect canes together to make a cloche. They didn’t work very well, but I had some old tent poles that link together. With the addition of the plastic balls I’ve made a cloche for the small bed next to my greenhouse, so that’s now covered with a decorating sheet and an old shower curtain just to get the soil warmed before I sow and cover with protection from the pigeons. I’m not sure yet what to plant there, but I’d like to put some meadow flowers in to attract in the bees and other insects. I have plenty of seed, so it’s just a case of making up my mind!

I’ve written this over a couple of days. Today (Sunday) I finally managed to get my garlic out of modules and into actual living soil. Hooray! I’ve put it in the bed near the patio, which has now had some blood, fish and bone added. I’ve spent the last two days on gardening after a long period of cabin fever caused by the cold and snow. It’s been hard work but bliss to be outside. As I’ve been given a power washer by a kind neighbour, I’ve even  started cleaning the filthy, neglected for twenty years patio. The slabs are coming up OK. It all needs re-doing, really but cash is needed for that so it will have to wait. It’s uneven, we think because of the trees that were planted too close to the house, so we will attempt to level it up for now with the help of my son.

Cheery daffodil

Cheery daffodil

Last years’ Spanish Bluebell fight is back on. I’m still digging them out. But my daffodils are open, and look lovely. Strangely, so are snowdrops. They’ve been delayed by the cold, but are a welcome sight. The big hit is my violas, planted last Autumn. They sat under all that snow and flowered as soon as it melted.

The jet stream is still too far south, but tomatoes were ready to be pricked out today, and now sit on my windowsill in the conservatory. Three varieties. More about those next time.

My new dog, Daisy, has really settled in and is determined to help by making sawdust of any stick I’ll throw for her. Here she is after an exhausting game of ball. She’s going to be my very own Nigel, for those who watch Gardeners World. She follows me around as I get on with work out there, and seems to love watching what I’m doing. Or chewing up wood, or watching next door’s chickens through the fence.

Daisy

Daisy

Peeling paint, Pot Plants and Charlie

It’s a mixed bag of news today. The snow is beginning to melt, but depressing for most of us. Sheep and cattle are dying, wildlife and birds are struggling and I still have cabin fever. Shopping doesn’t count as an outdoor activity and isn’t my form of therapy!

peeling-paint

So, I thought a bit of cheering up was in order. Firstly, here’s the paint I’m having to strip back before repainting my conservatory windows and door. Fun, eh?  I didn’t get to it today, as we needed to go out for bird food and us food, plus a baby gate to keep Daisy from going upstairs when we finally get her home. We’ve rung again today, had no-one get back to us and are still waiting for a home visit. Maybe tomorrow?

Kalanchoe

Kalanchoe

Indoor plants of course don’t know spring hasn’t arrived, and can give you gorgeous colour for weeks on end. Here’s my latest star performer, a kalanchoe I bought as a very small plant last year. I potted it on, fed it and now look! Cheering me through this horrid weather. They are easy to grow. A succulent, the way to kill them is by too much watering, especially in the winter. Keep them on the dry side, with plenty of light. But do not attempt to grow on a south facing window in summer. It will scorch their leaves. They can be stood on the patio in summer, but for the first week or so you try this, bring them in at night until they’ve acclimatized. And don’t try until AFTER the last frost.

Charlie On His First Birthday

Charlie On His First Birthday

Last, but by no means least, a couple of weeks ago I went to visit family and as I’ve told you saw my grandson learn to walk. He also had his first birthday. I took lots of photos, as you can imagine. Here’s my favourite.

What are you doing to stave off the cold and misery of our absent spring?

Anticipating Daisy

Daisy - soon to be part of the family.

Daisy – soon to be part of the family.

We’ve built a hasty, temporary fence around the patio. Daisy will not be allowed to come home unless we can show a safe ‘turning out’ area for her. We managed, just, to get it up before the snow. The RSPCA volunteer home inspector was meant to phone us by today, but we’re still waiting. It’s frustrating as we want to get her home, but understandable that there may be delays caused by this unprecedented snowfall. We seem to have had it quite bad compared to our immediate neighbour towns and counties, but not as bad a Scotland and Wales, so I guess we should be grateful we have power and heat and can get to the shops.

It’s the heaviest snow I’ve ever seen, and the meteorologists are calling it the coldest March in fifty years. Seeds will have to sit and wait in the greenhouse for the return of spring, as I’m not going to waste fuel heating them. As we don’t know what’s coming next, there seems little point in trying to rush things. I will for now concentrate on finishing the decorating in the conservatory. The woodwork had been badly neglected and terribly painted so I’ve stripped it back and it’s almost ready for repainting. I’ve had to dig away at old paint as the opening lights above the windows had been painted shut. They are now out of their frames so I can sand inside the architrave and free them up for future use. Not exactly fun jobs, but once done will look so much better and the windows will be usable again.

Houseplants are starting to grow as the light levels rise, so I’ve started feeding them again. I’ve also bought a small fatsia japonica, which is a plant I have known all my life. My dad had a small one, once. Of course it grew and grew. I was raised in a bakery, and my dad only had a small backyard in which to satisfy his passion for growing things. He moved the fatsia outside, gradually putting it in larger pots. It was nicknamed Billy. Eventually, Billy flowered and produced seed. My dad germinated the seeds and he propagated it by cuttings. One of them went with him when he and mum moved house after I was married. It was called ‘Son Of Billy’ and still grows in my parent’s garden today, and they’re now in their eighties and I have a grandson. I had a ‘Son Of Billy’, too for ten years in one of my previous homes, but couldn’t bring it with me as it was a mature shrub in the garden, and I hadn’t managed to get a cutting to strike.

Now I have my ‘forever’ home I decided I want a Billy around the place again. He’s in the conservatory until ehem, ‘summer’. He’ll then go on the patio, come in next winter and then, weather permitting, next year, he should be strong enough to survive outside planted in the garden.

Do you have a memory of a particular plant?

Weather or Not? Certainly not summer

Alpine flowers

First my apologies. The last few weeks have been mayhem, a lot of it boring stuff. It’s dragged me away from my blog, though not my hearth. I’ve spent far more time in front of it than I would normally expect to in May and June. Brrr, it’s not summer, is it? April poured, May did mostly the same and now June! Awful, cold and not easy to get anything done outside.

BUT the great, fantastic upside that’s taken far longer than I ever expected to get done (drum roll please…) my greenhouse is UP. And it has plants in it.

My new greenhouse

My partner and I just don’t have the skills that were needed to build a solid base on a slope. Three times the heavens opened when we were due to have someone come and do the job. Then last week, finally, the workforce and the weather needed came at the same time. My tomatoes, started in the conservatory, are now in, staked and watered. I left out some slabs to allow one border access to the soil beneath. I’ve got a layer of gravel and sand in there, put the tomatoes in growbags but made slits in the bases so the roots can get down to more water when they need it. As we do go off camper vanning, it will reduce my neighbors kindly watering duties and mean using less water. Not that there’s a shortage at the moment.

Also, that border I started to strip of Spanish Bluebells is almost finished, and I  planted most of it between downpours. It was hard work and I had to take it slow, but it at least can get on with growing now. This means that my patio area is now clear of greenhouse, plants in pots for the garden and other clutter. We had to buy a mower, too, if we weren’t to need a machete to get to the bottom of the garden. The birds have continued to delight us and have reared their chicks which now visit the bird feeder with mum and dad. So cute! Photography has been for the most part impossible because of the weather, so I haven’t many new shots at all, especially as you need good light for birds and fairly dry conditions for the camera! I’ve included a couple of shots of plants that have managed to bloom despite this weird, wet drought!

Clematis adorns the net supporting it. Eventually this will be hidden by foliage.

I have managed to do a little writing, though. I write on Squidoo, too, on special areas that would be too detailed to discuss here. You might be interested, though, in a few of the Squidoo ‘lenses’ I’ve done as they directly relate to what I’m doing here on Earth and Hearth. One, called Wild Flowers For Gardens highlights some of my favorite wild flowers that won’t go rampant and look great in the garden. 30 Top Flowers For Bees continues my crusade to get more people planting nectar rich flowers. After all, we benefit as much as the bees from their hard work when we eat! Foraging Wild Plants To Eat focuses attention on picking from the wild. Given the current food shortage issues and economic climate, I wanted to educate people on what CAN be found for free all around us. I’ve since heard that the latest, fashionable word in the city for this is ‘invisible food’. My aim is to make it more visible so more people can benefit.

I hope you’ll pay these lenses a visit for more details than I could possibly bring to this blog.

Free Fuel with Recycling

Free fuel! Not an easy thing to come by these days, but certainly worth having with the cost of gas and electricity. We were given a paper log maker for Christmas by our friends and have made some out of the years of files my partner needed to cull. They do a great job in out log burner and so far we’ve not had to buy any wood. We’ve either used these excellent paper logs or used wood found discarded (fly tipped) by less thinking members of society. What a great ecological use of waste materials!

This cuts our heating bill by lots! We don’t need to keep the central heating running, as sitting in one room in the evening means we only need to heat that room. It gets so warm we open the door and let the heat escape into the rest of the house, and go to bed cosy. What a lifestyle improvement since we moved from our last home which had central heating and no fireplace.

free-fuel-fire-brick

Free Fuel, Recycled Paper

The gadget for making these logs is a very simple one, and all you have to do is shred paper, leave it in a bucket to soak then cram it into the log maker and press hard to squeeze excess water out. Then you put them somewhere to dry. In the summer this could be in a sheltered spot outside, but we’ve been drying ours in the airing cupboard. Just in case you fancy trying this method, you can buy them here.

free-fuel-lit-fire

Free fuel in the fire

Gardeners: Recycling Tips for Spring

Recycle all you can and save even more money to grow your own food! I’ve just potted up my tomato seedlings, grown in the conservatory to get a good start on the season. I want to grow one for cooking, one for salad and one marmande type for those lovely, juicy huge fruits you can slice and practically make a meal of. I’ve potted them up into old large yogurt cartons with holes in the bottom, made using a hot skewer so they don’t split. The labels are made from old milk containers, cut into strips with scissors. I use a permanent marker to write on them. Ecological use of plastic must be a good thing, don’t you think?

recycled yogurt pot

Recycled Yogurt Pot

Recycled milk container

Recycled Milk Container

Then there’s my favourite tip. Biscuits. You need the boxes. They make excellent little seed trays. There are always some seeds you only want to germinate small quantities of, and normally would be advised to buy quarter sized seed trays. Save your money! Just pack biscuit boxes with compost and sow in them. By the time the seedlings need pricking out, you can put the boxes on the compost heap, so they’ll be twice recycled. The dedication required to eat the biscuits first I’m sure won’t be hard to muster!

Recycled Biscuit Box

Recycled Biscuit Box

What can you recycle in the garden or your home?

Gardening Begins Now the Ice Has Melted.

ice hebe

Iced Hebe

At last the snow and ice has melted and the temperature is above freezing. So the last couple of days I’ve been able to relieve the cabin fever that had struck me. I’ve made a start on pruning the native hedging growing down one border of the garden. It has been neglected and needed a hard prune to help thicken and strengthen it. Not to mention the increased light levels in the rest of the garden now it’s been brought down to about 6′ tall instead of double that! I’ve also taken courage in both hands and done some pruning on a fairly mature apple tree. It was leaning far too far into the centre of the garden, and perilously close to where we want to site the greenhouse.

My poor hebe has also defrosted and is looking good. How about those brave crocus, too, flowering in the snow? I had to get photographs of them. Click on the pictures to enlarge.

ice crocus

Iced Crocus

We’ve erected a ‘man shed’ for all Jon’s tools and clutter which I’ve also painted in the last day or two in ‘forest green’ to help it blend in. I’ve discovered that the birds don’t notice me at all when I use it as a hide, so as soon as I can cope with sitting out there with the camera, I hope to get some good close-ups of them raiding the food I put out daily.

My son started on the greenhouse base but then the snow came, so now it’s gone I’ll get him back to finish the job. I’ll then have an 8′ x 12′ greenhouse for all my growing needs! Currently, there are seeds coming through on the windowsill in the conservatory. So far parsley, sweet peas and tomatoes are making their entrance into the world.

I’m doing several types of tomato. There’s one called Roma, which is a plum type like the tinned ones we cook with. Why buy tinned if you can have fresh?  I reason that as long as I can bottle or freeze  a surplus we will save money and the use of tins. Then there’s a cherry variety for salads. They came through first. Lastly, I got some tomato Marmade – big slicable Italian ones that you can grill, eat raw or cook with. I’ve not grown those before so I’m looking forward to sampling them. I’d better get the basil seeds on to flavour all those lovely toms!

Incidentally, toilet tubes are great for any deep-rooted plants when sowing seeds. I’m using them to sow sweet peas, french beans, broad beans and carrots. I’ve had to ask friends to save empty tubes for me. More recycling, less pots to store as they rot down when you plant them, tube and all, and no root disturbance for the seedlings. As I want to grow everything organically, this method is perfect.

potato

Odd Potato

Growing your own sometimes has unexpected benefits, not just environmental and financial ones. In this case it was amusement. Here’s a potato that grew last year. I wonder what I’ll dig up in this years crop?