Saturday, 6 December 2014


There was a proper frost last night, an ice on the cars, chickens' drinking water needing a can of hot to thaw the basin out, white grass, silver crystals on the gravel sort of frost.  All credit to the Met Office, it was forecast, and I'd made sure to shut the greenhouse and conservatory doors.  It wasn't a very deep or hard frost, but then the day never got very warm, so that by dusk it was still lying in the corners of flower beds and other odd corners the sun hadn't touched all day.

Knowing that it would be frosty and that I wouldn't be able to walk on the grass or do any proper weeding, at least until mid morning, I'd already set my sights on starting to cut the boundary hedge around the front garden.  The leaves are finally off, and the birds have eaten the hawthorn berries (which seems very early.  What else do they eat instead for the rest of the winter?).  I felt a bit mean removing sections of hazel with developing catkins, when they are such a good pollen source for early-flying insects, but the hedge has got to be done periodically.  The branches of some of the field maples are nearly half way across the railway garden as it is.  Drawing a mental line about a foot outside the rabbit fence, anything the wrong side of that line is coming off.

It isn't a very good hedge.  It's on the hungry sand, almost completely lacking in nutrients and unable to hold on to water for more than about five minutes.  At its worst points you could have stood on the far side of it and we could have held a conversation over the top fully ten years after it was planted.  I have fed it periodically with fish, blood and bone over the years, but probably not as much as I should have, and the base has been invaded by grass which will have taken half the goodness from the fertiliser.  Encroaching grass is a great growth checker for woody plants, until they are thoroughly established, and with a young hedge it's a vicious circle.  The hedge isn't dense enough to shade out its own roots, so the grass grows unchecked, further stunting the hedge.

I have dosed the grass periodically with glyphosate as well, over the years, but you have to be careful with glyphosate around young stems.  It is mainly absorbed through green leaves, but can penetrate bark if it's only thin, or so I've read.  Plus the hedge is vast and that much ready mixed glyphosate would be very expensive to buy and give me RSI applying it.  Now I've got the knapsack sprayer I might have another concerted go at the grass, though in the short term I'll probably make do with sprinkling some bone meal around.

It was a very clear day, so that every detail of the distant houses around the farm appeared pin sharp, making them look closer than they normally do, and in consequence very large.  The log cabin that appeared in one neighbour's garden earlier this year looked positively vast, and yet I know it is exactly the same as it always is.  I drove past it yesterday, and it was its normal self, a home-assembly garden office about the size of a double garage.

I let the chickens out for a run after lunch, and they were slightly disobliging about wandering about and into the back garden, meaning I had to take a break from weeding the thawed-out gravel and follow them there.  While I slightly resented having my flow of work interrupted, it was cold enough that taking a periodic walk was not bad thing.  One tip I've read for losing weight is to turn down the thermostat for a few hours each day and chill yourself, which apparently stimulates your body to convert some of its stores of fat into energy-burning brown fat.  Whatever the biochemical mechanism, being outside today certainly felt as though it was cranking my metabolism up a couple of notches.  Whether I'll lose weight is another matter, as there were the Suffolk cakes when I came in, and as predicted, their slight resemblance to lemon flavoured bathroom sponges didn't matter in the least.

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