Thursday, November 13, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Here are the hard fruit:
And this, in front of the onion and lettuce bed, is the plum:
And the only problem I ran into is that the handle of the spade I was using snapped. Just plain broke off, right above the metal haft. I'm not THAT strong, so I reckon there must have been some flaw in the wood.
The shovel we have sufficed to finish the job, and I'll look for another spade.
It's immensely satisfying to be coming into the winter with a dozen different crops already lined up for next year!
The peas aren't to be planted until late October, but the onions and lettuce were ready to go in straight away in September. So I and Junior Cat started into getting a bed ready for them. Junior Cat's contribution was in tangling up the string I was using to mark the edges of the bed, which I'm sure we all recognise as being a vital effort.
First, I cleared back the sod on an area about 3m by 1.5m. It was a nice sunny day, and the work was not as hard as it might have been - the lawn in this part of the garden is only a few years old, and there's been nothing else there since it was last bare soil, so there aren't many deep roots.
Having put on the edging - which in this case is made of planks intended for decking - it was time to double dig. The soil from the first trench went into the big yellow bag, and we were off.
Half-way down the bed, I was developing strong respect for those people who double-dig whole gardens. This 4.5 square metre plot had a go at completely exhausting me.
But I did, eventually, finish it. This is the plot with onion seeds (left hand end) and lettuce (right hand end). It's got a good load of compost for the onions, and I hope they appreciate it - there were not as many in the pack as I was expecting, so I may fill in the gaps with a spring planting crop as well.
And then it was on to the fruit bushes. Having tried B&Q, and been disappointed, we were amused to find blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries in, of all places, Tesco. So we bought two of the blackberries and raspberries, three blackcurrants, one gooseberry bush, and one blueberry. They're planted in a long row up alongside the shed, and onward to the corner of the house.
The canes are a little frustrating - the other fruits have clearly taken well to their new places, and have some new leaves to convince us. The canes are just sitting there, though, and while I reckon they're rooting away happily, there's no sign of it above the ground. We may have to wait until spring for them to show any action, I suspect.
And finally, here's what the seed bed looks like three weeks later:
The lettuces are coming up in huge quantities, and if you look really carefully (they're probably just not visible in this image) you can see the beginning stalks of the onions. I'm very pleased with the seeds, as it looks like something close to 100% germination. And where the lettuces have not come up, I suspect the paw of cat, rather than the hand of Thompson or Morgan.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Whatever way the wind was on Tuesday, it contrived to push over the whole structure, pulling out the pins that run through the bottom bars and into the ground. Some of the bars are a little bent, but it stayed mostly intact. It did, however, pull over with it one tomato plant, one cucumber, one butternut squash, and one sweet pepper. Most of them seem ok, considering, but I'm not sure the cucumber is going to survive the experience.
I stood everything back up, re-pinned it, and put the plants back in:
And then while I was standing inside, it had a go at blowing over again. I was able to catch it and hold it down, but not to prevent the squash and cucumber from falling again. I then arranged two strings over it, tied to the shed on one side and pins in the ground on the other. I reckon it was a coincidence of wind direction and strength, because it's shown no sign of budging otherwise.
I have no idea if that will hold it, but it'll have to do for now. Before I put it to serious use next year, it's going to get a properly level area under it, and be attached firmly to the ground.
I'll let you know how the plants do, and if they survive bring tipped over...
Monday, August 25, 2008
However, in conversations about the garden - and I apologise to those people whose ears I have talked off in recent weeks about the topic - it's starting to come up that many people's experience of food production at home is that they end up with too much. I've been thinking about that, because while anything that gets produced can be either eaten, given away, or preserved in some manner, I'd like to spread things out a bit. The ideal, I reckon, is to produce all the vegetables we need (and can reasonably grow in Ireland), and at least some of the fruit, and not to under- or over-produce.
Actually getting to precisely that state is probably harder than it sounds. You really can't predict, when you sow seed, how much is going to come up, and you can't know in advance what the depredations of slugs, blight, or other problems are going to be like. So you have to sow more than you really want to reap, just to be on the safe side.
I also think we're going to have to change our eating habits. At the moment, the main vegetable we use is the bell pepper - and unless we really do well with the greenhouse, I can't see us producing enough peppers to last the year. So there's going to have to be some adjustment toward eating the things we can produce - which is probably better than buying in peppers from elsewhere anyway.
The notion of overproducing any one crop is making me think, though, that the way to go is a wide spread of different crops. Staples like onions and potatoes can have reasonably large numbers, since they keep well. Carrots will probably get in there as well. And after that, I'm starting to think that single rows of lots of different things forms a good plan.
Monday, August 18, 2008
The kitchen will be awkward to work on, and I think I'd really like to get another room done first. That would be the upstairs bedroom or the sitting room/library, really, and I'm leaning heavily toward the latter. Sure, there are lots of bookshelves in there, but the books are not in any real order at the moment, so taking them off the shelves and putting them back half-randomly won't do any harm. In the bedroom, there's less furniture to move, but we need to sleep in there, so I'd like to get it done in one day, if it were at all possible. And knowing if that's possible needs the practice of doing another room first.
I've never actually done wallpaper stripping before, though. I was considering the notion of just painting the wallpaper, but I'm told that the result is inevitably unpleasantly sagging wallpaper and uneven colour. So that's out.
Expect "before", "in progress" and "after" photographs when we get going.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
However, it may be as well, as I've started to think about what I could actually sow now for winter and spring cropping. Winter lettuces are one definite possibility - sowing now would mean I could harvest from October to May. "Winter Gem" is a variety that comes highly recommended. Thompson and Morgan don't seem to carry it, though, and they have the best recommendations on seed quality. They do carry the "Arctic King", and "Butterhead" varieties, though, and they seem to be pretty hardy. I'll try Butterhead.
Turnips and swedes will grow through the winter, certainly, but the only times I ever use the things are in stews. And there's a limit to the number of stews I can make. So they're probably not a going concern, unless some of my local readers will volunteer to take some of the things off my hands.
There's a breed of carrot called "Autumn King", which is specifically for autumn sowings, and could be harvested as early as October, if I plant now. Carrots are good filler for stews, pies, soups and so on, and can be grated into salads, so I reckon we'd have a use for them. T&M carry "Autumn King 2", so that gets added to the shopping basket as well.
Peas are very favoured, and an early crop next year would be very nice indeed. T&M are out of my preferred winter option, "Meteor", and don't seem to have any other autumn-sowing varieties. I'll have to look elsewhere for those.
For onions, which I'll always have uses for, I'm looking at something called a "Hi Keeper F1 Hybrid". Technical name, but it can be planted in September, and not thinned until spring. Ideal, so into the basket with that, too.
So lettuce, carrots, and onions, and I'll have to look elsewhere for peas. I seem to recall that some varities of potato might do for autumn planting as well - I'll have to do some more research.
... and as you can see, the crop - this is from a plot of about two square feet, at the very most - was respectable enough. I steamed them, and they turned out very well indeed. Even the Lodger pronounced them excellent.
In the meantime, the courgette plant, the single one that came up, has gone from this protected little specimen:
... to this monster:
... and since then has gone into actual production. If it keeps going at the current rate, I reckon we'll be eating the first courgette around the end of this week.
In the greenhouse, things have boomed:
The front left is a butternut squash,the front right a greenhouse cucumber. They're already about twice as big as in this picture (taken only a week ago), and are starting to produce flowers, so I'm hopefully of some cropping from them soon. I recall having to pinch out the tips of squashes before, but I'll do some research before I try it on this one. The cucumber is doing a rather cool thing where any joint of the plant that reaches the ground starts to develop roots. Behind them are the two tomato plants, which have thus far produced two fully ripe tomatoes and host of as-yet unripe ones, and the sweet pepper, which has just today developed some tiny buds that look like they might yet become peppers.
And finally, we have blackberries growing in our hedgerow:
I clipped back the ash and hawthorn that make most of the hedge today, and left about six good brambles protruding, all of which have berries at various not-quite-ripe stages of maturity. There's also a few good bunches well out of reach in the hedge, but they're close enough to the house that I think a ladder and some not-too-precarious leaning should reach them.
The rain itself was spectacular; a dense haze of water, thicker near the ground where raindrops were rebounding by about a metre off concrete and tarmac. We were just in the door of the local supermarket when it started, and even the roof there sprang a few leaks. Other people weren't so lucky, and I understand there's been plenty of flooding, with the M50, M3 and M1 hit badly.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
The main purchase was a plastic greenhouse and some plants to go in it. It's a Gardman one, and was very easy indeed to assemble.
This is the space pre-Greenhouse, with the box leaning up against the shed. As you can see, there was blazing sunshine on the day I assembled it.
This is me in the process of assembly. Note elderly garden work trousers (which have been to India when they were still wearable in public places). Also note slight canting of poles, due to uneven ground. The nettles by my right foot are not really visible in this picture.
Fully assembled, with some plants bought from B&Q installed. That's two tomatoes on the top left, a sweet pepper on the top right, and a butternut squash and a cucumber at the bottom left and right respectively. I know it's cheating, but I don't think anything planted from seed now will grow by the time it gets too cold. The nettles have done their fill of stinging at this stage.
And here's how it looks when it's zipped up, and the day has naturally dulled by a bit.
I'm not entirely sure how well it's doing. The plants are certainly still alive, but it never seems that much warmer in there than outside, and I'm a bit worried by the sheer number of bugs that wind up inside and don't get out. On the other hand, there are a few spiders in there, so maybe the mini-ecosystem will balance out. The uneven ground means that there's a fair bit of air getting in at the bottom, and I'm not sure if that's a problem or not. Most of the permanent greenhouses I've seen are pretty solid around the base.
I might construct something with some tiles and bricks for next year - a sort of semi-permanent base.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
We're recently back from a short holiday in the Algarve, in Portugal. I spent a good bit of the time there, when I wasn't reading or zoning out, rubbernecking at the architecture and design. I was fascinated by the houses; all steps and softened corners and white and tiles. I think there must be a strong remnant of Moorish influences, because really, they're like nothing I've seen anywhere else in the West. Here are a few pictures, which I'm keeping for inspiration.
This one I like because of the sprawl of balconies and roofs and chimneys. Note also the solar panels - we saw a lot of those, often on houses that were quite old, and on modern apartments and the like as well. The level of greenery was unexpected - there had just been a three week spell of cloud and rain, and it showed.
These outside steps are typical of the houses - built as integrated parts of the structure, decorated with tiles and arches and small details of paintwork. All this is facing the Atlantic coast, and in the blazing sunshine, the white walls are almost blinding. My prescription sunglasses usually give a sepia tint to things in Ireland, but confronted with this light, all they could do was dull it enough to let me escape without a headache.
And this house was just over the hill from the hotel we were staying in. I love the combination of round and angular structures, the way in which it combines wall and roof and stairs to form one frontispiece, and the organic look of the whole thing. The picture doesn't quite do it justice, unfortunately, but as with many other buildings here, it was impossible to find a place from which you could take a single picture that showed the whole building - there were always details out of sight, or trees blocking the view. In some ways, that was part of the charm of the buildings; there were always new details to be found.
(All pictures by my wife, whose camera skills trump mine every time)
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The Experimental Potatoes are also doing nicely, and the rain washed away a little soil in the bed; enough to reveal a large-marble-sized new potato. I reburied it, rather than carry it off, which I think shows great self-control. The spring onions in the bed beside them are not showing any great level of growing, though; there are half a dozen now starting to look properly like onions, and no more. Since the seeds were a freebie with a magazine, I'm a little more inclined to blame those than anything else - especially since the courgettes, from the same pack of free seeds, have thus far produced only one viable plant from about twenty sown. Although I gather that if that plant gets going, it may well supply our courgette needs all on its own. To be fair, I suppose, the onions should perhaps be someplace a bit sunnier - there's more shade from the trees in the western hedgerow than I expected.
There has also been the discovery of some climbing roses by a fence near the back of the garden. At least, we think they're climbing roses. For my level of knowledge of garden flowers, they could be anything. Something leaning in from a neighbour's garden at the front of the house has big pink flowers, and some brambles in the hedgerow have flowers, leading me to hope for blackberries in the autumn. I'm wondering if it's possible to encourage blackberry brambles in any useful way, should that be what they are.
Second, neither of the sheds leak noticeably, not even the full-of-holes one that's in the main part of the garden. This is welcome news, and means that it'll get a coat of paint later in the summer, and some patching up, rather than the complete removal I had considered.
The clayish soil is showing itself, though. There's one point where there's a dip in the ground, with slightly hardened soil. The rain water is pooled in it, showing no signs of draining away, and I suspect that the soil is holding a lot of water as well. It doesn't look like it's going to be a problem as such, but it's another argument in favour of raised beds, I think.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
In the other, smaller bed, the experimental potatoes are starting to leaf properly, and the spring onions are just barely coming up. I was about to pull out what look like some very un-onion-like little double leaves, but then remembered secondary school science telling me that all plants start off with those two little round leaves. So I'll leave them until they turn into onions or something else before they come out or stay in. The recognisable onions have very thin stalks (leaves?), some of which have odd angles in them, or fall over at the ends. I'm not sure if that's expected, or if they want more water - but considering the rain yesterday and some of today, I can't think they could. There'll be pictures of them when there's enough there to pick out from the background.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Here are some pictures of the progress so far, though. This is the area where I want to put in three beds, roughly clipped with a shears:
And this is me, digging like mad:
And this is me again, contemplating the cleared bed:
(Pictures by Sorcha O'Brien)
It has since been forked over initially, and while the soil there is slightly more clay-ish than I'd really like, I think some compost will open it up. It's certainly nice and easy to dig, and there are few stones, no bits of glass or metal, and no roots worth speaking of.
I'm planning to do something about edging, or maybe putting some paving stones or something between the beds - to neaten up the look of it, if nothing else. If I'm planting more in this area, it'll be to the left on the first picture. The long term plan involves some small buildings there - a sauna and some decking - so I don't want to put anything too permanent in. Fruit bushes are a possiblity, fruit trees are probably not.
Monday, May 19, 2008
I cleared ground to plant courgettes on Sunday, and if all goes to plan, I'll be planting the seeds this evening. I might look for a few ornamental pumpkins to go in around the edges of that plot, too, more for fun than for real eating.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
"The '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s is the hottest market going right now," said Jerry Goldman, of the monthly Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire. "People are buying their childhood. Designers are snapping up the mid-Modern stuff."
That's very clear from any of the design sites I've been watching - the strange, streamlined shapes of the 60s and 70s are very much in vogue, along with colours that in many cases, I've only seen in photographs.
Yet there's another trend mixed in there that I haven't seen anyone draw attention to - wire. Birdcages, metal framework furniture, spindly lampshades, and so forth. Those, together with light colours, painted wood, and the flash-animation-derived patterning of fabrics, really comprise the look of the current era for me. And yes, it definitely looks 70s:
There's also a set of scans of kitchens from an old issue of Marie Claire Maison from Automatism.
There are a few things in common between these - open storage being a big one. But I don't think it'd work for us; it's very easy for open shelved storage to get messy, and I suspect it means cleaning everything on a regular basis, even if it's just because of dust. I'd rather the dishes not get dusty.
There's also a lot of light in those designs, which is another argument for letting light in from the south side of the house to the kitchen. I expect the computer room door to be open a lot, which will let in some, but I'm going to have to look at the actual light fittings as well. The current ones are a set of three small directed shades, which aren't nearly bright enough as they are. I'm thinking spotlights pointed at the counter-tops and tables would be very useful.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Those bookshelves are now filled with books, of course - we've been moving books since we got the keys, since they're the largest single category of stuff we own. I've been looking for a few ideas on what we can do with the stairs. The first idea was from my wife, rather than me, and that was to put bookshelves up along the right-hand side. Busyboo has a very good example of staircase-with-bookshelves, (with a great idea about drawers in steps, too) but that's not going to work for us, at least not on both sides. And the staircase is already narrow, so shelves might reduce it too much. On the other hand, it'd look great, and it's not really a public-use staircase, being as the only room up there is the master bedroom. So as long as they were only one paperback deep, we might be ok.
There's plenty of advice out there as to what to do with the space under the stairs, but very little on what you can do with the stairs themselves. One of the long-term proposals is to put a porch on the front of the house, and remove the wall between the hall and sitting-room, and that would allow us to do a bit more with the steps themselves.
The stairs are carpetted at the minute. Ordinarily, I'm much more in favour of wooden steps, but in this case, they're quite steep, so the carpet allows a bit more grip for the feet. Finally, the dark wooden bannisters may need replacing with something a bit lighter in colour, or possibly even painting. I'm starting to be greatly in favour of painted wood; it reminds me of a lot of old country houses I saw as a kid.
Second is the fact that none of it looks actually white. That seems to make a difference. There's a definite eclecticism about the furniture and wall items, which also appeals to me. And finally, you can see under a lot of the furniture, and while I wouldn't in a million years have thought of that as being an important aspect of room design, it definitely seems to be a common theme in these; it makes the rooms look a lot more open. Stuff to consider...
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I'm finding it to be pretty nearly perfect. It's going to need weekly use during the summer, because otherwise the grass will simply get too long for it, but that's not a problem. A quick trial has shown that I can mow the area of the back lawn that we're cutting, and the entire, much smaller, front lawn, in about fifteen minutes - and that's taking it easy. It has the added benefit of getting me some exercise, which will certainly do no harm. It's a lot better for the environment, and best of all, it makes a very pleasing thukka-thukka-thukka sound. It's all about the little things, right?
This is the kitchen:
(Photography by Niall Murphy)
The house came with the white goods and some furniture - all three bedrooms have beds, there's a kitchen table and six chairs, a desk, some shelves and a dresser, and there's a three-piece suite in the sitting room. Of all of them except the bed in the master bedroom, it might truthfully be said that they've seen better days. Although I'm not entirely sure the couch and armchairs ever had good days; they're a style of hard, spindly wooden furniture with cushions, which I can't even pin on the taste of a given decade. The fifties, perhaps, although the house was only built in the seventies. I suspect they were brought in to have something in the house while it was up for sale, rather than having seen much real use.
It's a dormer bungalow, so there's only one room upstairs, and that's the master bedroom. It has an ensuite shower and loo, and there's access to the attic space as well - to the front and back of the bedroom, rather than above it.
We have plans for most of the rooms, short and long term, but these may well change as we get more ideas. Our short term plans go like this:
The sitting room will be becoming a library - we'll be putting shelves all along one of the long walls, and in the alcoves to either side of the fireplace, or possibly only one, because there's a display cabinet in the other, which we might keep. The fireplace itself may have to be replaced - the hearth is fine, and even has a boiler at the back, although we've yet to discover whether or not it's hooked up to anything. I can't imagine why anyone would disconnect it, but then again, people board up fireplaces these days. Nutters. We'll get at least a couch and an armchair in there. Possibly a three-seater sofa, a chaise-longue, and an armchair.
The kitchen will have to stay as it is for now, although getting a dishwasher in there will probably be a priority. I don't mind washing up - I do it in the morning, and find it meditative - but the other occupants of the house are in favour of the mechanical option. The table is big enough to play games at, which I approve of. We'll put our own dresser in here alongside the existing one, and we've added a microwave to the other goods there already. The door between the entrance hall and the kitchen may need to be replaced with a sliding door - it's rather in the way as it is.
Of the two back bedrooms, one will go to The Lodger, who has some crazy ideas about painting all the walls white, except for one which will have floor to ceiling blackboard paint. He's liable to change his mind, though. The other will become the War Room - containing enough desks to support the computer habits of three fairly technical people. It's on the south side of the house, so we'll actually see some natural light in there as well.
There's a bathroom downstairs, with a bath in. I don't think there are any plans to change anything in there in short term, beyond making the hotpress accessible for the cats.
Upstairs, the master bedroom will see some more furniture that we already own brought in - a big, old wardrobe, a dressing-table/chest of drawers affair, and a linen chest. This should realistically provide us with enough storage space. The floorboards on the window side of the room creak something awful, so I'm going to have to have a word with them in the reasonably near future. Again, there's not a huge amount that can be done with the ensuite in the short term.
The back door will need a cat-door put in. We might need to consider cat doors in some internal doors as well, but that will come as we get used to the layout of the place, and what doors need to be open. Outside, the shed that's not in the main part of the garden contains a freezer and a clothes dryer, and has enough room to do a fair bit of storage, or possibly be fitted with a bench and enough shelves to work as a small workshop for the moment. The other shed is really suitable only as a garden shed, although if it can be stabilised a bit, I'd consider a green-house lean-to on the south side of it.
Discussion of further plans will appear on a room by room basis, and probably spin off into wild fantasies more suitable for castle restoration than a seventies dormer bungalow.
(Photography by Niall Murphy)
I have plans for this place, but they're not terribly well formed yet. My main aim is to grow vegetables and fruits out here, while leaving some of the lawn there. I like daisies, so I won't be trying to eliminate them.
Since this picture was taken, we've mowed the lawn back as far as the ash tree in the middle. I'm thinking that the area beyond that will probably become the main vegetable patch - although I've dug a test bed off to the right in front of the shed, planted some sprouting potatoes as an experiment, and some spring onion seeds as... another experiment. It's all a bit experimental at the moment, to be honest, since I've never done much in the way of real gardening before - just a lot of reading.
I'm probably not going to do a great deal with it this year, other than watch it and think carefully. The intention is to get a good bit in the way of vegetables, some fruit bushes, and fruit trees in there next year, when we know where's shady and where's not. As it stands, it look like the west side - on the right in the picture - is the shadiest, being out of direct sun for about a third of the day due to trees there. The wall at the south end doesn't provide nearly as much shade as I first expected - at least, not in summer. On the other hand, I'd imagine that with the sun lower in the sky in winter, there'll be quite a long shadow from it.
In these pages, I'll be providing you with a riveting, blow-by-blow account of our efforts to redecorate, garden, and otherwise do all those things we haven't been able to do while renting. It will also serve as a bit of an online scrapbook, because I constantly see things on design sites, home improvement pages, and gardening blogs that I like the look of, and want to remember for my own later use.
I'll attempt to provide pictures, when I can. Some of these I'll take myself, and I apologise in advance for their quality. The better pictures you'll see have been taken by my wife, or by friends skilled in the use of these exotic "camera" devices.