A Castle in the Sky

In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…


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This year’s veg; successes and failures… (Aug 16)

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After last year’s club root disaster (see Club foot! Aug 24, 2013 ) Ed bought resistant strains and this year brilliantly all the brassicas have come through.

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The onions were kept in pots too long before they were planted out so ours didn’t do well at all.  Luckily we are sharing everything and Mr C planted his out at the right time…

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We’ve had a glut of courgettes (we have 3 kinds) and tomatoes – they just keep on coming.   So I’ve been making batches of soup to freeze and tried my hand at ketchup as it uses up nearly a kilo of tomatoes per bottle (it turned out a bit runny for ketchup – I blame the sieve – so I’m calling it relish).

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We’ve discovered that runner beans and peas need to be picked at just the right time – otherwise the beans are stringy and the peas go powdery.

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We have curly kale and cavalo nero – the curly kale tastes a bit earthy but the cavalo nero is delicious.

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We also have house stores.  We pulled up all the beetroot which are now buried in a bucket of sand –  and all the carrots which are now buried in a box of compost.   All the potatoes – we have 2 kinds  – are sorted and in sacks for the winter.

We have more lettuces and parsley than we know what to do with.  The spinach is now coming through, as are the leeks – and the parsnips will be next.     It’s been a bumper year and now we know what grows really well the next skill to master is ‘succession’ – so we have year-round veg.

 

 

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Uncovering the secrets of the walled garden (Jul 16)

When we first moved here just thinking about the amount of work that needed doing to the walled garden was overwhelming.  See – The Walled Garden (Easter Weekend – Mar 30, 2013).     The old vegetable patches hadn’t been tended for years, the green house was filthy and many of the glass planes broken, the orchard looked like it had never been pruned and that winter, before we arrived, the north wall had been seriously damaged in a storm.

Below – the back of the north wall. The repairs were meant to have been carried out by the previous owners…

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 Nearly all the garden was rough grass

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April – and Ed gets started on one of the 2 overgrown vegetable patches…

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The unloved orchard surrounded by mole hills

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Despite the daunting task ahead, we were smitten – and one step at a time, our secret garden is starting to bloom.   Ed has worked a year of magic on it and walking up the winding path to the garden door is now more exciting than ever as there’s such a treat in store…

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We now have 4 impressive plots of burgeoning green; fruit as well as vegetable patches.   This is our main veggie patch

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The green house has had a total make-over and is currently the happy home to 5 tomato vines

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At long last the north wall has been properly fixed with stone and lime mortar; a massive job that the previous owners eventually paid for…

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The moles hills have also gone, the apple trees have been fed and pruned, and the meadow patches are underway – and there’s so much more to come; hedges and paths, flower borders and a DIY summer house, restored railings and replacing a section of ancient tumble-down wall with old barn doors as gates (the search is on…).   It’s a vision of loveliness.   We are one year in and it’s already taking shape.


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The last of the veg (Nov 10)

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We had high hopes that the vegetable patch would supply much of our winter veg – but ‘club foot’ (see Aug 24) unfortunately put paid to that.   Otherwise our patch has served us pretty well.   Today we picked the last of the peas and dug up the last of the potatoes.    The leeks are fattening up and they’ll be next to harvest…

Ed’s been busy turning over another 3 patches. One for fruit (he’s just put in new raspberry, blackberry and blueberry plants), one just for potatoes, one for all our other veg (we are now armed with a supply of club root resistant brassica seeds –  5 words I never imagined saying in the same sentence!) and one for Mr C.

Mr C says he knows that there were at least a dozen patches here during the war, so we had a look on Google earth and it’s possible to make out quite a few old outlines.  This birds eye view also exposes the skew-whiffness of our first patch, so Ed’s re-shaping it to run parallel to the garden walls.  He’s pegged out the others to do the same.   I think it’s a sign of what a committed gardener he’s become.

He’s also managed a first pruning of the old apple trees  – need to go slowly so as not to shock them.   Got the green house up and running  – now lagged inside with bubble wrap to keep it insulated through the winter.     Fixed the dripping tap by the back gate and collected all the apples.     It’s only the start but already it looks like a well-tended, working garden.   Imagine what he can achieve in the next few years?


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Club foot! (Aug 24)

We have a veggie patch disaster – club root – or club foot as I’ve been mistakenly (and embarrassingly) describing it to the neighbours…has attacked nearly ALL our brassicas.

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So I’m afraid half our winter veg supply; the sprouts, cauliflower and cabbages (with all their lovingly placed collars) are not going to make it.   And it was all going so well…

It’s a fungal infection that comes from something in the soil.  It stunts growth in the roots and therefore the plants.  There’s really not much we can do about it – apart from trying to find strains of club foot resistant brassicas in future.   Ed not surprisingly is forlorn after all his hard work, especially today  – as he decided to pull them all up.

However, even though we’re rookies, the rest of the patch looks really healthy and with our intermittent removal of slugs (fond of lettuce) and caterpillar eggs  (prefer curly kale) it looks like the rest of our veg should be fine.

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Veggie patch guinea pigs (Jul 22)

 

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The veggie patch is now looking much more professional.  The new wooden posts arrived a few days ago and Ed put them in with the help of Mr C and his digger.  Mr C is also an expert on leeks – and apparently ours weren’t deep enough – so Ed replanted them.  Ed ordered a huge piece of net to cover the whole thing which will keep out the birds. The carrots (in the front) have a finer net over them to stop carrot root fly – put together by our friend Dan who came up from London last weekend.  Clearly we need all the help we can get!

We’ve offered the patch next to us to Mr C but as it all needs digging over he’s going to start on this next year    I think he’s keen to assess our results first…


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The Vegetable Patch (Jul 6)

There are 3 huge old vegetable patches in the walled garden that are overgrown with grass and weeds. Ed’s been working on one of the patches this week – and this morning he turned over half the soil ready for planting.

It was sunny and hot so we had a picnic lunch under the apple trees before getting down to some planting.

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We put in several seedlings; sprouts, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and leeks (as we’re a bit late to plant these from seed). Apart from the leeks I’ve discovered that these are all ‘cruciferous’ veg from the ‘brassica’ family.  We also replanted what we think might be some ropey old courgettes (that were already in there) hoping to save them.  From seed, we’ll plant beetroot, carrots, lettuce, spinach, turnips and beans (currently germinating in the kitchen) in the next few days.

We’re building up our knowledge of brassica growing as we’ve discovered birds have a particular fondness for them; apparently wood pigeons like sprouts. So the whole patch needs to be protected with net. We also need to get some flat disc ‘collars’ that go round the base of all the stems to stop cabbage root fly laying their eggs down there.

So Ed made a frame from various bits of wood that he found in the old green house and lean-to’s and then managed to cobble together enough pieces of random net to go over the top.  He doesn’t think the net will last a windy day though so it will need replacing in the next few days.

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The upsum is that out of an acre of walled garden we’ll have cultivated just 6 by 12 meters – but at least it’s a start. If we’re successful with our beginners patch then it should supply us with nearly all our winter veg.