Snakes On A Compost

Ok, so it should be ‘in’ a compost. I couldn’t resist the movie nod however Samuel L Jackson’s tough guy is not required here.

Mr T was digging out the first compost bay and turning it in to the second whilst I was doing the day job. If something interesting crops up then he will always text me  a ‘look what I found’…’did you know’…’look what I made’… message.  You get the idea.

Mid July a few photos appeared. Something reptilian was lurking in the compost. Mr T had noticed lots of burrowed holes networking the bays which made sense when a beautiful  snake  was unearthed and quickly made a swift exit out of one bay and in to another.

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He had seen them last year but only briefly before they slithered away to their hiding places. Never enough time to shout for me so I could see them for myself. Was this one a grass snake or a slow worm?  (Oh, no need to help me out here. I know a slow worm is a lizard. I’m on it dear reader ; )

I’m not squeamish about snakes or reptiles in general. My 70s childhood is full of memories toddling after one tan and one black tortoise that patrolled our little garden drawing in the neighbours to giggle at their shell bashing shenanigans. When Leslie died and then Esme was stolen (grrr!) we purchased Marigold from the local pet shop. A handsome girl with a hot temper. She was one of the last spur tortoises imported for the British pet market. Of course, I am so glad they no longer do this but she has had a great life and continues to create mayhem and carnage in my parents garden. Toes must be protected from her determined nips on a hot day when she comes stealthily under the garden table. All visitors are duly warned.

My point to this walk down memory lane, is that I am rather at home with creatures of a scaly nature. Despite risking the neighbours whispering ‘that weird woman is staring at her compost again’ I do spend time down there in the sad hope I might cop a glance of old Natrix Natirx.

Another photo popped up.

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Last year I recall The Anxious Garden blogging about grass snake eggs in the compost. We didn’t find any in ours but this year has been altogether different. Mr T luckily uncovered these by a well placed dig of the spade which caused the compost to gently drop away exposing the clutch. No broken eggs, phew! Perhaps the snake that sped away was mum? Mr T made note of the position of the eggs in the bay and carefully moved them in to the same position in the next bay. There is, of course, a risk that exposing them to air temperatures and moving them will cause the eggs to fail but we can hope. Marigold laid eggs the summer she came to live with us. Perfectly round ping pong balls in her straw nest in the garden. With research we moved them to a sand box in the airing cupboard and with eagerness an eleven year old Miss T inspected them daily for a glimmer of baby tortoise that might arrive. A tiny shell could be seen developing inside one egg but sadly it wasn’t to be. No mini Marigolds appeared. I do hope this won’t be the outcome for our snakelets (neolate is just too sciency don’t you think?) and that they hatch to help the population continue since they are in a worrying decline.

Another photo arrived.

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What a beauty. I know many of you will have seen them too but I do find it thrilling to know that something so exotic is slithering around in our little patch.

The end note to this blog is how this snake sighting did bring about a little nervousness in the household of The Trug. Last year Mr T came across a snake in the compost which we guessed was a grass snake.  This year’s identification has made us certain that last year’s visitor was definitely an Adder. Sadly he wasn’t able to snap a shot of it before it disappeared but from now on a healthy dose of respect will be exercised when moving logs and various bits and bobs down there in the copse if Adders are making it their home.

Take care through that long grass. Who knows what you might come across…

Missss Trug

 

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Flippin’ Fritillaries Innit…

Where have I been hiding? Well, you know how it is. I’d much rather be home and pootling in the garden but life just gets in the way. Usually ‘work’. The unpleasant kind. It is an on going distraction more and more from where I really want to be. The lottery ticket plan isn’t working just yet, but we can but hope. However, time I shook off those winter blues and work black dogs and shared the good stuff with you. Six months is ridiculous but I’m here now.

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My best buddies in the garden. Not quite this clean now.

One of the real pleasures of the garden this year has been the Fritillaries. When we moved in mid May last year they had just finished and we were left with the nodding seed heads. This year we revelled in their slow appearance. They were stunning hence they have now appeared in the header. They are so exotic, not only do they not seem natural to our English country gardens, they give the suggestion of trickiness to grow. I’ve seen them in the gardens of the national trust and similar such country piles and envied their scatterings of Fritillaries here and there. What is the secret to growing such a thing? I reflected with awe and wonder.

Nope, they are a cinch it appears. Whack them in and away they go. For us of course they are well established.

 

At one point in February I did worry. A never ending pool appeared at the base of the apple trees where I knew the Fritillaries lay sleeping.

Visions of the dainty little bulbs rotting away floated in my mind. The pool remained for weeks and finally ebbed away by April when very slowly the Frits began to appear poking up through the goo. By mid April, they were flooding the place themselves. Beautiful in the spring light.

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Thailand? Japan? Madgasca?…. Nope, back yard in Blighty.

I know so many have said it before, but the chequer board patterns are just stunning aren’t they. How can something so sophisticated be not only in our garden but also be so prolific?

Here comes the ‘multi photo saturation’ part of this blog.

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Gorgeous!

Last year I collected seed. I have a trial seed tray on the go sown last weekend. We will have to see if they are viable. This year the seed heads are being left to do their thing and scatter themselves around the orchard.

Frit seed head

I suspect the previous owners might have mown during late May and at this stage the seed heads are still green. As we are allowing some areas of the orchard to become meadow *cough*cough* I am hoping the ripe seed heads are then able to disperse seed more successfully and we will eventually have a greater spread of Frits through the whole area.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering November Colour

Back in November I was working in the garden and like the rest of you I was astounded by how much colour there still was all around. So I took some photos of what I could find. I’m slowly trying to identify what I have. Double photos can be hovered over for names or me hazarding a guess at names anyway.

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Greater Periwinkle perhaps

 

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I think this is Kerria Japonica Plenifloria. It seems very invasive with hardly any flowers.Meant to bloom April to May.

 

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Wild primroses looking a little moth eaten but still pretty.

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Fuchsia ‘Hawkshead’ maybe?

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Fuchsia magellanica?

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Lonicera japonica var.repens Creeping Japanese honeysuckle. It’s evergreen and pretty rampant.

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Even the geraniums are still looking good and flowering.  I’m gambling on when to take them in.

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Yellow Jasmine Gelsemium sempervirens.

 

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A geranium I think. It’s been very pretty all summer and autumn.

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Not sure, flowered in the summer and then returned after the cold snap in October.

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Hydrangea Lacecap

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Even the Evening Primrose was persistent.

Some roses were still hanging on.

The Mahonia which of course should be flowering now was in its element.

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The weather is odd being so mild but it is lovely to have the colour remain just that little bit longer around us.

Feeling Fruity

Both our previous gardens were fruitless being quite small. The new old house came with a range of fruiting plants and trees. We are learning as we go, reading, seeking advice from those more experienced but there is also a lot said for trial and error don’t you think?

The back wall of the potting shed catches the midday sun until the end of the day, and there grows a lovely thornless blackberry.

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Just ready to ripen.

I did net them as best I could at this stage as the blackbirds were certainly eyeing them up but the wasps were an irritant that couldn’t be stopped. I suppose a fruit cage is the only way to reduce that. Anyhow, with courage we delved in despite them and managed to collect over a kilo of fruit. In to the freezer they went  ready for making jam a bit later.

One of the most impressive inheritances is the grape vine outside the backdoor. My grandfather did have one himself that I believe rarely fruited. This one, on the other hand, has been spectacular.

Being new to fruit we weren’t entirely sure how to care for it so plenty of study was required. We learnt very little except how to prune the thing when it had reached it’s denouement and that plenty of watering was favourable. You can see that we have a pergola (I use the term loosely) frame supporting it. It is quite large being about 10 feet by 20 feet covering the whole patio area between the kitchen and the garage. You look down beneath it to the orchard so the dappled early morning sunshine is rather lovely first thing with the days first cup of tea.

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May

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Little baby grapes appear…

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and starting to grow juicy and green and fat.

They pretty much stayed that way all August while everyone else was talking about grape theft by birds and total destruction by wasps. We didn’t seem to have this problem at all but they just weren’t ripening except those around the edge of the frame.

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After some hmmming and harrring I decided to strip off some of the foliage and let more sunlight in. Holding your arms above your head whilst balanced precariously on a ladder for an hour at a time is not a pleasure. I was developing He-Man biceps which is not a good look for me however within a week the jolly little berries were rosying up a treat. Hooray!

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And, what luck! We had accidentally timed it perfectly. Most of the wasps had gone and the birds, who had not seen the grapes all summer, just didn’t seem to notice them there. This gave us time to harvest most of the bunches over  a few days and leave a few for wildlife to have.

What to do with all these grapes? The taste test resulted in squished up noses. The grapes did taste nice without their jackets so the decision was made to squeeze them. Mr Trug has had great success with sloe gin in the past so he was quite keen to attempt a little wine making. The juice was absolutely amazing. In fact it was unbelievably good. Lots of mmmmms and oooohs from anyone who tried some. If I had been more organised this year and planned for bottles and freezer space then I’d have kept some. Not to be this year but instead it was put through the fermentation process. This was not without it’s hazards where yeast was left in the sitting room by the fire to ferment with the lid on. Doh Mr Trug! It scared the life out of me when it exploded catapulting lid and foamy creamy clods up on to the ceiling narrowly missing the flat screen telly. I can still see the stain up there now.

The result was three demijohns of red, well, what shall we call it? Stuff.

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Please excuse delightful peeling wallpaper post bathroom flood

Will it be a cheeky little red 2015 or a lot of cooking vinegar? We will have to wait and see.

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The orchard was bulging this year with apples. Pears were leaner but not a bad crop overall. The previous owners had kindly labelled a map of the trees they did know and I spent quite a while in early summer labeling up the apple trees with tags.

Green tags.

I know, you’re shaking your head pitifully. True, with the trees in leaf it is virtually impossible to see the labels. They will be moved or replaced over the winter. Lesson learnt.

Sadly a lot of the apples made it on to the compost but we did store some in drawers in the garage each in their little paper pockets. All the good pears went in (Conference and Comice) too but we have struggled to keep them and most were thrown. A rethink next year on more cooking prep/freezer space.

Our favourite had to be the Worcester Pearmain. Delicious. So lovely to now take my own apples to work to eat. A little of home came with me for as long we had them to eat.

Of course, Mr T has had a go at cider making despite hating cider with a vengeance. I suspect this had something to do with episodes in his youth-hood. The apples were crushed with the tiniest apple press I have ever seen. Kindly lent to us by a friend (cheers Dave) but it could have been made for dollies. We moved on to the next size up (cheers Warren) but even that took a millennium to complete. The plastic barrel is now full and festering, I mean fermenting.

I am very pleased the apple collecting came to an end. Apples, apples apples, every weekend! But we did leave a good few lying around for the wildlife. Unnerving teeth marks could be seen chomped in to the flesh but I’m guessing that will be from the badgers and foxes plus maybe Fraiser the golden retriever who pops round on his morning patrol. Them rather than the Hounds of the Baskervilles I imagine lurk in the blackness out there once night falls.

Finally, we have the hazelnuts or cobnuts or filberts. Whatever takes your fancy. My mum and dad call them cobnuts and talk with real passion about them as part of their childhoods. We have quite a few hazels which were growing cobnuts and I promised dad some once they were ready to pick.

The squirrel spies had been listening. I patiently waited, following advice, for September to come round and for the little nuts in their wraps to start to brown. Then they were GONE! Just like that. Damn those pesky squirrels. They either ate them, chucked them about and ruined them or hid them. Occasionally a little stash turns up in the compost, under a pot etc.

So, I presented my dad with…

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Pitiful isn’t it. Oh well.

Squirrels 1 – Miss Trug 0

Compost Under Construction

The new old house came with its own compost bays. Two massive bays actually brim full of black gold! The previous owners must have worked hard to fill it as there was plenty of good compost ready to go and you can tell, when digging the flower borders, that over the years a great deal has been added to break up the heavy soil.

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As you can see Mr Trug emptied the left hand bay barrow by barrow for me to mulch around the garden with the gorgeous, dark, sweet smelling stuff. The borders under the house front windows looked velvety and well-tended instantly. Great for suppressing the weeds and it perked up the plants there no end. What I didn’t want to use for the time being was bagged up for now and set aside for autumn mulching. However, another bay was still full.

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You can see that these bays were pretty much cobbled together from bits of this and that. It didn’t look very attractive and although hidden behind some carefully placed Mahonia and Holly bushes when viewed from the top of the orchard it wasn’t pleasant to come across when following the path round in to the copse. This was our chance to change the location of the compost. After some discussions it made sense to move it up to to the top right hand corner of the copse. It’s very shady and wooded there so hard to dig and I am sure and I am guessing equally hard to cultivate in terms of attractive planting.

After some swotting up in books and online we decided on four smaller bays where the collected debris could be placed and shredded in one and then move from bay to bay as it degrades with the final bay being the oldest.

Over to Mr Trug to construct. Digging out the ivy was hard work and we are sure not all of it has gone. Something we are going to have to keep dealing with we know.

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Decking boards were the cheapest and hardiest to use. Routed posts allow the boards to be slid in and out easily to make bigger bays, or leave air gaps between each board.

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Nearly there.

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Nearly there.

Bays complete, he then dug out the old full bay and filled one new one straight away turning the compost ready for it to brew a little longer. We weren’t too concerned about disturbing any little Tiggy Winkles as the old bays were made of sheet metal and pretty impenetrable but a pile of leaves and lawn cuttings have been left alone until the spring just in case any have snuggled down in there for the winter.

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At the moment the boards are open. An experiment by Mr T to see how this cultivates the compost (or not).

New material already gathered that isn’t too thick is mown before heading in to the bay. We’ve been borrowing my parents shredder but had to give it back. One is on the Christmas list for Santa.

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Good for the compost, maybe not so good for the mower.

We inherited a massive fallen Ash which is currently perched awkwardly in the ‘v’ of another neighbouring Ash in Witchy Woods behind the new compost bays (you can just see it leaning in the corner of one of the photos below). We’ve been clearing the huge swags of ivy that look suspiciously part of the reason the tree came down, ready to eventually take the tree out for firewood, and in our clearing found some buried pieces of old fencing.

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Maybe once it bordered the whole property but there were only a few left, two being curved, abandoned and half buried. They’ve even got some pretty twists attached for decoration. I’m guessing Victorian as only they would have gone to such effort to embellish stock fencing!

I’d asked Mr T to make me a leaf bay after hearing so much about the magic of leaf compost and we felt these old pieces of fencing might be ideal. We are completely surrounded by trees, plus the copse of our own so we might as well make something out of them.

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The fleece is off. Hot work building leaf bays.

Lined with chicken wire it should allow the air and rain in to help the leaves degrade quickly.

Lovely job honey!

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Don’t feel too sorry for Mr Trug doing all the building while I stand around supervising proceedings. Since this photo the leaf bay is full to the brim. As chief leaf collector I’ve been busy and with achy raking muscles to boot. I’m looking forward to autumn next year when it will yield its magical elixir. Lovely.

 

 

Kirpi? Kerpow! Those weeds never stood a chance.

Sometimes you have one of those kitchen tools that eventually gets relegated to the garden. I had such a paring knife which was truly pants in the kitchen but had its moment to shine in the garden. It was my weeder between the pavings extraordinaire! Then I moved house three times in the past year and my beloved weeder has been lost down some imaginary rabbit hole. High and low I have rummaged amongst the pots and boxes but to no avail.

I have been studying one of my holy books. The Complete Gardener by Monty Don and I came across his recommendation to get me one of these here kirpis. Looking it up online revealed it to be the mother of all weeders. Could this be even better than my long lost knife?

Indeed it be! A hook for getting right in there… a serrated blade for decapitating the most determined of weeds…. a hoeing blade for scything off all in its prime. If Lara Croft took up horticulture she would be packing two of these spinning them wildly through the jungle.

Not really before, more during.

Not really before, more during.

After... nice job super kirpi.

After… nice job super kirpi.

All this plus you get to feel a bit good about yourself as they are traditional tools made in India (and they are clearly hand made from sustainable and recycled materials) by the organic trust.

Kirpis rule. Go on, you know you want to.

Take a pew Ethan Hunt. Mr Trug is on it!

The fickle British weather. It just can’t make its mind up today so I have plopped myself at the desk to jot a bit down. Yesterday, however, was stunning so as per the English gardener’s won’t we sweltered under the heat to make hay while the sun shone. Fear not dear reader, I wore a hat!

Down the bottom of the flower garden near Witchy Woods ‘stuff’ had been growng merrily undisturbed by us. Evil ‘stuff’. What were we thinking?! In leaving this patch alone for the past few weeks a cursed jungle had developed. Bindweed was binding, nettles were barging and brambles were scrambling but worse of all we had cultivated our very own crop of Hogweed. Or was it Cow Parsley? Or was it Hemlock? Blimey, it’s a horror movie in the making out there. Mr Trug and I politely argued the identification of said evilness but whatever it was I wasn’t going in there. I’d seen Youtube and google images of the ‘years of scarring’ left behind by the dreaded Hogweed so I wasn’t going near the stuff.

That said I was more than happy to direct Mr Trug to ‘get stuck in’ and he duly did. Naturally I directed procedings with a few, ‘Well done hon, good job’ to keep him at it until all the evilness was scrunched up in the wheelbarrow. He took it carefully, down the garden path to the compost, like he was transporting a nuclear war head yet to be deactivated. Mission Impossible music running in my head throughout the whole thing… mission accomplished!

Hogweed (et al) be gone!

Hogweed (et al) be gone!