You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘The very smallholding’ category.

The lower third of the Very Smallholding is a steep bramble covered slope leading to a flat bramble covered space at the bottom. For the last few years I’ve just hacked a way through the bramble with a scythe every summer and scrambled down the slope, but it seems that more civilised people object to sliding down thorn covered mud on their backside. As we’d like to invite people over occasionally we need to have at least one route through the garden that people can use without getting covered in mud, which means adding ‘civilised’ features like steps on the steep bits.

It turns out making steps isn’t as complicated as I thought. The business of digging and putting the wooden support in place is in fact a lot easier than trying to keep your balance on a steep slope made of wet clay covered in bramble branches. On occasion it feels like I’m in an episode of a hilarious slapstick comedy, and the spade is less a digging implement and more of an ice pick. Fortunately it isn’t an exact science, and works more on the ‘it looks about right here’ principle, and sometimes the “I can reach this bit from the only part of the hill that isn’t either a bramble or potential landslide, therefore the step goes here” principle.

On balance it would have possibly been smarter to start from the bottom so I could stand on the steps I’d already made.

We live and learn. Photos will follow as soon as I find the bits to recharge the camera.

*This project will probably take a while and generate several more bad puns.

So, back to regular updates about our attempts to live a greener-than-thou hippy lifestyle you come to read about.

When I checked the Very Smallholding I found a thoughtful citizen had donated to The Great Pile of Junk I still haven’t managed to work myself up to hauling to the rubbish tip. We are now better off by one broken clothes dryer and an office chair that doesn’t go up or down.


I don’t want this to become a regular event, so I hid moved the pile back into the garden, trimmed the hedge, and generally tidied the area up a bit.


The garden seems to have done reasonably well while we were off contributing to climate change. Actually, rather too well.


The vegetable beds have gone feral and there are courgettes in there big enough to club trespassers with, not to mention pumpkins the size of small boulders. The grass has become a hayfield and I can’t even get down to the bottom of the garden as the path is overgrown again. It seems Disgruntled had similar problems this year, so I’m not alone.

The cherry tree isn’t looking so happy though. If you look very carefully you can see where two large branches fell on the roof of our ancient not-a-toilet to get some attention.


Now I’ve got to figure out how to cut those logs without them falling on top of me. Then I’ll need to drag them to some point where they won’t rot and I won’t fall over them every couple of days.

Well, at least I’ll have some firewood. And I won’t be bored.


How the weather isn’t.

I should have been at the garden today. The beds need weeding again, and I’ve not had a chance to unleash the newly sharpened scythe on the brambles (although a trial swing in the veggie beds went through several varieties of weed and the side of a compost bin), the seedings are finally growing to a point they can be planted out and there are more steps to be dug than I want to think about, and I’m sitting in here with the rain beating on the skylight behind me like a British boarding house on a bank holiday weekend.

Usually the spring rain falls so hard the runoff on the roof pours so fast it misses the guttering altogether and pours straight on the garden below, then clears up by the time you’ve finished your bike ride*. This weekend we’ve had constant rain: heavy, light, and by way of variation this afternoon, angled.  There’s no point going to the garden in this weather as the shed leaks and the clay soil will glue to the spade leaving it useful only as a club to beat the weeds with. I know I keep going on about this, but I really need some reliable, comfortable shelter in the garden. I’m working on that, admittedly painfully slowly, but hopefully I’ll soon have some progress soon.

I’ve spent most of the day helping Eldest Son with a history of Hamburg, and sketching woodwork projects. I’ve discovered that dovetails are part of the test in a few weeks and my final project in 2015, so I really need to get some practice, which means ordering some wood at work, which means working out what I need.

I’ve also been wondering -in that melancholy way you do when the rain is hitting the window- about what to write about next: I can’t go cycling or gardening and a sane person can only take so much information about woodwork. I’ve lived here and this way so long I don’t really know what is interesting to someone looking in through these web pages.

Please give suggestions below. Or expect more entries about the weather.

*Usually about five minutes before you get back…

…the world isn’t going to be saved by technology, I kept working on a couple more low-tech projects this week.


For some strange reason we  hardly used the balcony for growing anything last year, which meant we had to go across the village every time we wanted a lettuce. Towards the end of the season someone I met on a permaculture course sent me a link to a pallet garden and I decided this was the answer to our narrow balcony. I scrounged a pallet from some people doing a house renovation, painted it liberally with wood preserver, and put this together.

The cardboard is to hold the soil back: the original plan says you should plant the pallet lying on the ground and then lift it up when the plants had grown a bit but I didn’t have space or patience for this. I’ll cut holes in the cardboard and push seedlings in as I go along.

The tomato plants were not part of the original plan, but you can never have too many tomatoes.

We turned the water on again, mildly surprised that none of the pipes had frozen in the meantime.


And while weeding the veg beds I found this mystery tree which I’m embarrassed to say I can’t identify. Does anyone know what it is?


The sun is shining, the rain has stopped, the steep part of the garden is no longer a mudslide, and the seedlings are growing. In fact the only blot on the joyful horizon is that I’ve pulled my biceps on both arms. This is probably the result of suddenly going from a job sitting and typing to a job which involves lugging large amounts of timber about the place. I’m now written off sick for three weeks while they sort themselves out again. My elbows have been mummified in pressure bandages and I’m taking some pretty hardcore anti-inflammatory drugs. I’m now banned from the garden except for light stuff like seed trays and painting. Doing things like unloading trailers full of roofing tiles and building materials is out of the question.




Here’s some of the family transport out in the sun being washed for spring. I really should have done this a lot earlier: not only was there the remains of rust from road salt, but some bikes had autumn leaves stuck in the mudguards.

Cleaning bikes, of course, is a pretty sure-fire way of making sure it will rain for the next day or so. While I was washing the bikes the weather went from bright sunshine to heavy rain in the space of an hour and it carried on all night, so all the jobs I had lined up for the weekend in the Very Smallholding, like finish digging over the awkward veggie bed, get the scythe sharpened and cut the Almost Hayfield while I still could see over the top of the grass, and prepare some kind of space ready to stack the wood from the monster tree when I finally get someone to cut it, etc, probably aren’t going to happen.

This is frustrating, specially as I was already getting behind with everything. So much for this being a way to drop out of the rat race and relax.

On the other hand, I can still plant a fair number of seeds in my home-made starter pots, and the boys are all growing things in containers on the balcony, so we can make a start on that as well.


Having cleaned the Xtracycle I finally got around to replacing the brake blocks. The last ones are were cheap no-name parts and made a noise like fingernails being pulled down a blackboard whenever I used them. They were also nearly through to the metal. This time I got slightly more expensive versions in the hope they last a bit longer: the blurb claimed they are made of all kinds of high-tech compounds so they work better over time instead of squeaking.

They have orange bits and mysterious letters on the side which will of course improve their performance dramatically.


So here’s the Very Smallholding. it may look as if I’m doing nothing but I’ve at least managed to get some of the weeding done*, with some help from my parents who came to visit and brought a nice stainless steel fork as a late Christmas present. If that wasn’t a hint to get moving I don’t know what is.

Last year I planted almost everything at once and ended up with a million leuttices**, half a tonne of courgettes and enough cannonball sized kohl rabi to reenact the battle of Waterloo.

Most of this, unfortunately, ended up in the compost bin: we only have so many neighbours who need seven courgettes a week.

The plan this year is to make smaller batches and plant each week. I’ve started to plant seeds in my usual home-made paper pots, but I’ll also be planting more seeds directly into the garden. Smaller things and salads will mostly stay on the balcony in the earthboxes I made a couple of years ago.


Thanks to The Boys and their friends running up and down the hill last summer, it looks like I won’t need to clear a way through the brambles as much this year, although some steps will be needed. Getting to the bottom of the garden is easy enough, if muddy.

Getting up again causes problems.


The monster tree at the bottom of the garden.  The general opinion is that this is a pear tree. Unless it is apple.

I’m still working out a way to get this up and out of the garden  so I can dry it properly and use it for something other than firewood.

*Pre-weeding view here.
**Still can’t spell ‘Lettices’.

I finally made it to the garden this weekend, this being the first weekend of the year that the road wasn’t a giant snowdrift or a waterfall. Some of the fauna grew well despite the conditions.


Unfortunately it was mostly fauna I don’t want. One of the more vivid green bits is supposed to be a vegetable bed.

I made a start on tidying up and moving the bean poles to a different bed and put the beginnings of a kill mulch on one of the most overgrown bed, so it at least looks like we’re doing something now. I tried taking a picture but it was at the twilight hour when trolls are abroad, so it didn’t come out very well.

I’ve still got a lot to do before I can plant anything, and I’ve still got a ten metre high tree lying on its side in the bottom of the garden waiting to be removed.

Speaking of planting, do any gardeners have ideas for red bean varieties that like waterlogged clay soil?

I appear to have stalled on the garden front. A combination of changing my work situation right when I should have been harvesting, and inexperience meaning I planted everything at once so I ended up with more Kohl-Rabi than anyone will ever need, and left half a dozen things too long so they got caught by the frost and pulped, meant that  despite a good start, we didn’t finish so well this year. We’ll probably have a lot more on the compost bin than in the carefully stored jam jars.

And the brambles made a comeback.

We live and learn, and hopefully I’ll still remember all of this by next spring.

A major problem is that we live across the village from the garden, and there’s still no shelter apart from our rather ramshackle shed which is breeding leaks. It’s hard to get the boys enthusiastic to go to the garden if they have to run about in the mud all the time just to keep warm. It’s also a pain that when it turns cold or starts raining/snowing/blizzarding, I’ll have to drop everything and ride home in foul weather.

What we need is a decent garden house so we can spend a day at the garden whatever the weather is doing. A privvy would be good as well.

Which means I need to think about what, for me is a pretty daunting construction project. But if we’re going to get any further in sustainable living, I’ve got to face up to this sooner or later, and as I progress on the carpentry course I’ll be running out of excuses not to have a go.

First step is to go and find out what we are actually allowed to build here, which means going to yet another office…

Feel free to give me a kick up the blog if I keep procrastinating on this one.

Not being a spreadsheet minded person I can’t give the full, in depth, results of the garden, but I can report that although the carrots came out interesting shapes and most of the Kohlrabi turned out like cannonballs in taste and texture, we won’t ever be short of aubergines this winter. The potatoes did pretty well too: Being of a lazy disposition, I’d planted them in the ‘no dig’ beds in the hope that they would break the soil down nicely and for once my cunning plan worked. The resulting spuddies tasted good as well, so next year I’ll be getting a few more kilos*, and use them to break down the beds where the courgettes and pumpkins clobbered the weeds this year. Collecting the order from the farmers shop will involve climbing up the Hill of Doom with bike full of seed potatoes, which I suspect will generate a blog entry in itself.

The other goal of the year was to start collecting seeds, so to this end I deliberately avoided F1 varieties (cross bred plants which are meant to combine the best properties of both previous plants) as apparently the advantages don’t last to the next generation, and last week I started drying out the seeds while I still can and getting them ready to store for next year. This is my excuse for why several lettuces and most of the spinach have bolted: it’s so I can collect the seeds, honest, not because I was in the UK and then too sloppy to harvest the things.

The flip side of this cunning plan is of course that I can only collect seeds from what grew well, so if I want any French beans, basil, or tomatoes, I’ll have to order them, whereas I have enough seeds to grow more yellow courgettes than any right thinking person would ever want…

*Obviously I can’t remember what variety they are. What do you take me for, a proper gardener?

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Contact me




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers