Saturday, 16 February 2013

getting to grips in the utility area

Finally it feels pleasant to be outside.  In fact, today seemed much warmer than yesterday, when it was jolly cold at Fakenham, and I was baffled at how so many people could wander around apparently quite happily although not wearing hats.  Today was a thermal leggings, fleece hat, heavy-weight fleece and two shirts day, but it felt very nice.

The Systems Administrator was out supporting our nephew's rugby team.  I've just checked the score, and they lost, so that won't have been such a good day as it might have been, especially when the SA has had to trek all the way to Mill Hill to witness the family defeat.  As somebody who is truly and serenely indifferent to the outcomes of almost all sporting contests, I can't share the SA's pain.  I felt a rare pang at the result of the 2.45 at Fakenham yesterday, but that was only because I'd made discouraging noises when the SA proposed backing a horse called The Black Baron, along the lines that it had unseated its rider the last time it ran, come fourth the time before that, and been pulled up on its only other outing in the current season.  The SA was swayed by my doubts and didn't back the horse, which went on to win at nine to one.

I thought that today to show willing I'd better use up some of the bags of chippings the SA has been processing from the prunings we took out of the hedge.  The SA had started grumbling ominously that I still hadn't used last year's bags of chippings, and it wasn't very motivating to spend ages shredding wood that sat unused in the bags until it rotted.  Besides which, I am running out of bags to collect mushroom compost in.  I see the SA's point about it not being awfully rewarding to shred woody stuff instead of simply burning it on the bonfire unless it's used, though in practice wood chips inside a plastic bag take a very long time to rot down.  The problem last year was that with all the rain the weeds grew like stink, and I didn't have any clean ground on which to use the chippings.

Today I weeded in front of the compost bins and by the fruit cage.  Two of the rhubarb crowns are coming into life.  I seem to have lost a third, but I recall it was late into leaf in previous years and I thought it must have died by the time it finally appeared.  I think I found it today by dint of sticking my fork through it while weeding, since I hit something underground that wasn't soil, and felt uncomfortably as though it might have been a rhubarb crown.  Given that you can split established clumps I expect it will survive the fork, assuming it is alive.  I even reached the point where I had weeded all round one of the crowns and could mulch it with mushroom compost.  Rhubarb is a greedy feeder, and the endless rain must have washed most of the nutrients out of the sandy soil in the top part of the garden.  It looked very smart in its little island of dark compost, surrounded by wood chippings.

Unfortunately I'm not going to have enough chippings to cover the whole utility area, even with the bags saved from last year.  I'll weed all of it now that I've started, but it's difficult to keep the bare soil clean all summer, once the weeds start growing.  I've got a heap of prunings from the grape vine waiting to be chipped, but you need an enormous quantity of twigs to yield enough chipped wood to cover a single square metre of ground.

Beyond the rhubarb clumps lies the chaos of the vegetable beds.  I didn't try to grow vegetables last year.  I took the original decision in March, because there was still so much work to do in the rest of the garden clearing up after the ravages of two hard winters.  Various friends and relatives asked me periodically about my vegetables, and responded with surprise when I said I wasn't doing them, or even with faint affront as if my failure to join in was casting aspersions on their vegetable growing enterprises.  It wasn't meant to.  It was simply that I didn't have time given everything else there was to do, and as the spring drought gave way to the everlasting rain and concomitant lack of sunshine I was quite relieved I'd already decided not to bother.  While I like cooking, and vegetables, my real passion as a gardener is for the ornamental garden.  Those who were shocked by my status as a vegetable growing refusenik lectured me on how nice really fresh vegetables were, that you had grown yourself, and they are, but you have to admit that you can buy a week's supply of quite edible vegetables for less than the cost of employing a decent gardener for two hours.  Ergo, if you have a large and out-of-control garden it pays to spend your time tidying up the borders, and buy your food.

That said, I might give it a go this year.  I can feel the vegetable growing juices rising gently, and the prospect of fresh broad beans beckoning.  Or little baby turnips, if I fleeced them against whatever fly it was that sent grubs burrowing through the roots last time.  Or maybe some salad leaves.  We'll see.

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