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There are days when I ride somewhere because it is the fastest way to get somewhere…

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…and days when I grit my teeth and tell myself over and over that it is good for me and the environment in the hope my smug green glow somehow has mystical weather-protecting qualities, and get home with a beard full of ice and shoes full of water.

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And there are days when everything comes together and the sun shines and the air is clear, and even though it is a long way to go and the temperatures are below freezing you couldn’t pay me enough to travel any other way…

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…so if you came here  for the ususal grumpiness, it has been delayed by good weather. Normal service will be resumed. Eventually…

Things normal people carry by bike: Books, laptops, shopping, small children…

 

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Things I end up carrying by bike: swede saws.

 There is a good reason for this, honest.

I was given a large piece of lime wood (D: Lindenholz) to hopefully convert into carved spoons and other items. The wood has to be split or it will be damaged as it dries, which meant hauling it to the garden and attacking it with an axe and heavy hammer, and hauling it back to the workshop to cut into smaller pieces for carving.

The problem with this plan was that it required your truly not to leave the swede saw in the garden. Which I promptly did, and had to collect it with the Xtracycle.

Mind you, I noticed that drivers gave me plenty of space…

(I’m still open to suggestions for garden planting…)

Suddenly it is March and almost too late to deal with the greatest challenge of the year. I’m not referring to the whole complex business of registering as unemployed, or even sorting out our tax returns, but of course the challenge of getting the garden ready for spring and deciding what to plant.

In the first season in the garden I planted out a variety of seeds directly into the ground, which considering the ground is basically solid clay and infested with slugs, worked remarkably well. The second year I read lots of instructions, prepared seedlings, manured the beds, et c, and achieved mixed success. I decided this was because I was trying too many things at once and went for simple last year: potatoes and onions with a few other random seeds that I found lurking about.

We put more spuddies into the ground than we got out and I think I managed to harvest one onion before they were chomped by slugs/mice/birds/trolls.

It didn’t help that I’m still pretty clueless and that I planted everything at about the same time, so the surviving plants reached maturity while we were in the UK, bolted, fell over and got eaten.

This year, I’ve decided on a different tack. I’m going to concentrate on three ‘bulk’ crops in the garden: a root crop, a bean variety, and… something else, possibly onions or leeks, or kale. With only three varieties to worry about, I can hopefully be a bit more certain of what needs doing and when, maybe even get to them before the Mice.

Being about as clueless as four years ago, I’m passing the question to the real gardeners out there: What three varieties would you recommend?* The garden is west-facing, so it gets very warm. Is there any way of avoiding a massive growth/bolt in August/September? Or, with the clay being the solidity it is, should I just give up and open a pottery instead?

*Let us discount Rhubarb, Celery, and Cauliflower: these are not vegetables but abominations.

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While on my way to an appointment in our local big town, I came across this.

For the benefit of our local councillors I should explain that this is called a ‘cycle lane’, and is a place where ‘bicycles’ can be used safely and conveniently by people of all ages and abilities.

Significantly this is part of a ‘cycle network’ which means lots of these are connected together, so that people have a choice of transport mode and don’t have to use a car.

I can explain the concept in detail if any local government officials are having difficulty with it. Judging by past experience I suspect that is most of them.

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People who hear I cycle to college often react with surprise and imply that I’m incredibly hardcore but I honestly don’t see it as a big deal: the ride is only 20 kilometres (12 miles) one way, and I get to sit down in a warm classroom all day before pootling back: essentially I get to have two short bike tours with a day at college inbetween. Besides, so far I’ve seen deer, rabbits, kestrels, red kites, buzzards, lots of smaller birds I’m gradually getting to know, and last week a fox ambled across the road as I went through a forest.

It helps that I only have to do it once or twice a week: I think I’d see it differently if I was riding every day.

The photo is on a new section of the route: I had to change because one of the towns I went through has closed a main road to lay a new sewage pipe and decided the cycle way is much more useful as a diversion for the Very Important Drivers rushing to the autobahn, and I don’t feel like dealing with stressed drivers trying to control their car and use their navigator while drinking coffee at half past six in the morning.

I did wonder about writing to the council and pointing out that by pushing cyclists like me out of the town, it means we can’t stop and spend money in their supermarkets as we pass,  but then I remembered I’m too miserly to do that anyway, and besides the new route has views like this and no traffic whatsoever, so I didn’t bother.

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The Millennium bridge in York, part of the city of York orbital cycle route which I’ve been using a lot in the last few days.

The white arrows at the bottom of the picture are three speed bumps. This is essential to stop anyone riding too fast off the bridge and along the straight, wide cycleways on either side. Presumably this important safety feature will soon be added to all road bridges.

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We get our seed potatoes from a small farm shop in the next town which is 2.5 kilometres away as the crow flies, rather smugly in this case because crows don’t have to go down into the valley and up out the other side like we do. Or carry twenty kilos of spuddies back for that matter.

Eldest Son rode with me for the first time on this route, having discovered that with a grown-up bike that has better quality parts, hills are a lot easier to climb. He’s now of an age where he legally has to use the road, so I’m taking him out as much as I can to get some traffic experience, and as the next town was recently rebuilt to make sure cars had even more space to go as fast as they wanted, including a section of one way system, where better to learn?

I carefully navigated a way through back streets which brought us out right next to the farm shop without touching the main road at all, except that the shop had moved, meaning we had to ride the length of the town on the recently rebuilt road, but Eldest Son dealt with the situation very well, and I’m sure the large SUV behind us on the very narrow one way system was tooting encouragement.

Potatoes loaded at the farm shop with an explanation of the reason for the move (Someone bought the premises and they’re making a high-end office furniture showroom: “Just what a small community needs” as the person measuring our potatoes remarked.) and we were off back home, with Eldest Son happily negotiating the rest of the one way system.

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In the valley with Xtracycle full of potatoes.

The real challenge came on the way to our village which is at the top of a 1-in-4 (25%) hill (You can see the hill in the top picture although even that frankly doesn’t do it justice). The Xtracycle went up it very well, my legs less so. Eldest Son was kind enough to wait for me by a bench so I could collapse for a bit, before continuing home for tea and medals, or in my case, to transfer the potatoes into the Bakfiets to shift them to the garden.

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After getting its fifteen minutes of fame a couple of weeks ago, the Bakfiets is now back doing the usual job, carrying 20kg of seed potatoes, 1 kilo of onions, some shopping bags for shopping in the next village, several pieces of very beautiful wood that is apparently uneconomical to work with and therefore fit only for burning unless I took it out of the workshop, three bags of rather smelly compost, a candle and a ‘rubble bucket’ How long before the poor thing gets as filthy as before? I reckon a week.

For those interested the seed potatoes are half earlies and half lates, we are supposed to plant after May the 20th  here because the climate can still throw a wobbly and freeze before then, so I’m not too late this year. As usual I read the label showing the variety very carefully and promptly forgot it before I’d left the shop.

There are times a Bakfiets can’t quite carry everything you need, especially when you need bulk consignments of compost from the local council tip and it is at the bottom of a steep hill, so last week a long-suffering friend allowed me to fill his nice clean trailer with fresh compost and deliver it to the parking space at the top of the Very Smallholding. Strangely he didn’t offer to help carry the stuff down the steps into the garden two buckets at a time, although he helpfully pointed out the parking space could have been at the bottom of the garden, so I was lucky there. Then he went home.

Young people these days, honestly.

The pile sat on the parking space, steaming quietly for a week until I got around to laying a cardboard mulch on two beds and to carry bucketloads of compost down to pour over the top ready for the mimited planting I’m going to do this year.*

It took me sixty trips, negotiating the steps from the gate, crossing the patio, mincing over the broken steps to the grass, sliding down the steep, increasingly muddy hillside to the veg beds, dumping the compost on the cardboard, climbing back up the hill, onto the patio and up the steps, wondering why I hadn’t looked for a nice flat suburban garden like normal people have, where a wheelbarrow would be a useful implement instead of a gravity-fuelled danger to man and beast.

As I half dumped, half dropped the last bucketful on the bed, a neighbour came to call and asked what I was doing. I explained that the cardboard was to kill off the undergrowth and give me clear well prepared soil for planting this year.

My neighbour scratched his chin, looked at the fresh beds, and opined “Ah, mulching. Well, you know what they say about that: it’s for gardeners too lazy to dig…”

*I’m very short of gardening time this year and we will be away in August, so I’m limiting myself strictly to onions and potatoes**.

**And some beans I thought I’d give another chance, a handful of leftover leek seeds, a few courgettes that are growing by themselves, and possibly perpetual spinach, but apart from that, definitely nothing else.

 

 

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The seedlings at the Very Smallholding are finally beginning to sprout, my lack of success so far being mainly that I hadn’t got around to planting things. The nice new clay starter pots are my replacement for the self-made newspaper pots I’d used for the last few years. Simple but effective greenhouse made by Grandma after she got fed up of me whining that my cold frame had collapsed.

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Notice carefully placed watering can to make photo of plastic sheet into art.

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