Late Autumn

November morning

The days have become short and the trees are balding. Some mornings come with a hundred shades of grey and silver while dense fog flows like a giant’s veil over the barren fields. Summer has gone, winter is not yet here. A few of the many cranes have not departed so far.

The untimely frost in late spring did not allow us to have apples or medlars. But we did get a wealth of pumpkins instead. We had beans and mangetouts and many a cob of maize. We had small forests of sunflowers. The place got invaded by butterflies, bumble bees and lady birds.

We had a stoat visiting in early spring. We had hares boxing in dusk. And we had three little ones in September at the foot of one of our apple trees.

Young hares

Where the beans and maize were grow winter onions now. Many of the sunflowers are still standing. The birds were quick in finding them devouring their seeds.

Bird feeder

October sunflowers

And there are still flowers – even in mid-November. The nasturtiums shine in bright yellow and orange and a beautiful brown-burgundy.

November orange

The white dead-nettles are still in full bloom. They are the first to go ahead in late winter feeding the early bumble bees. They still fed those large bumble bees when we were working outside in early November. There is a second generation of borage flowering right now. And we had butterflies baking in the autumn sun in late October. A large oriental poppy braved the autumn storms.

Oktober poppy

Hops

Our garden has changed. Some of the changes result from the change of season, some have come about through us working. It took us almost four days to get all the shrubs planted that will grow into our hedgerow over the next couple of years. Most of the time we had to spend on clearing the strech from weeds, mainly quitch. The long striped roots in some places looked like a pack of spaghetti. There is sea buckthorn now, and broom, juniper and cherry laurel, elder and a young birch tree. All of them with their roots neatly safeguarded by wire baskets to prevent the root voles raiding the newly planted.

As I write this we have not had frost yet. It is mid-November and it was a day of heavy showers and strong blustery winds. However, there was the odd sunny spell. The oak trees have not yet lost all their leaves. Some mornings the dew looked as if it was white frost. It was not, but it might well be any time soon.

 

On the Brink of Summer

Lady od Shalott

It is only late May and it is still some time to go until we’ll have summer proper. But the light and the atmosphere feel like summer already. The huge oak trees have put on their full green coats. The tulips and daffodils are long gone. Now is the time for the poppies, the wild ones and the garden varieties. The first roses have started to bloom just recently. A dark blue larkspur shines next to the huge white oriental poppy.

Oriental poppy with visitor (white tailed bumblebee)

Bumblebee feeders

We have a large population of dead nettles alongside the old stables and in the odd far corner. Presumably, they have been dwelling here for a very long time. They are our bumblebee feeders. They start flowering early in the year and will feed the white tailed bumblebees (who are the earlybirds amongst the bumblebees at the very start of the season) while temperatures are still rather low. The abundant white flowers keep feeding them and their cousins including honey bees and solitary bees for months. All the bees and bumblebees here have done a fabulous job: One of our apple trees is determined to deliver fresh apples in its first year with us. The others have tried but were too early and their flowers got caught in a late spell of severe frost. But this one tree waited out the frost period before opening its buds. There is still a long way to go before we can pick our first apples. Fingers crossed.

Gooseberry youngsters – they are supposed to turn red at some point

We have put up the netting over the berry bushes these days. There are red and black and white currants and red and green gooseberries. There was good reason to do so, because our meadow welcomes a great variety of diners as regulars. We like our little helpers that come day after day and browse our meadow for grubs and wireworms and whatever they can find to fend for themselves or feed their chicks. Our guests are rooks and starlings, magpies and fieldfares. There are wagtails and black redstarts on the ground and martins and swallows in the air, there are sparrows and tits and a pair of goldfinches was checking things out the other day. However, we’d rather they stick to browsing the meadow than picking the berries off the bushes.

A very young ladybird on garden sage

Some of our little helpers are even smaller. These are ladybirds and hoverflies and all sorts of butterflies. So far I’ve seen peacock butterfly, small tortoiseshell, brimstone butterfly, a small emperor moth and many others.

Slightly longer ago we put up little fences around our fruit trees. At the foot of the tree we keep a circular patch free of weeds and grass. It is here where we decided to sow crimson clover. The sandy soil is poor in nutrients and the clover’s rhizobia will improve soil quality over time by fixing nitrogen straight out of the air. The clover is not hardy and come winter will wither and leave its roots in the soil and thus share all the fixed nitrogen with the roots of the trees. We needed the fences because apart from the feathered diners we als have hares coming in at dusk feeding on the green stuff on our meadow. They even had a go at the broom bushes which I cannot appreciate. The books say broom is poisonous to hares and other wildlife. But those hares might not have read the books yet. We also put nasturtiums in with the clover. They are said to attract black lice and also they have nice flowers. The hares are welcome to munch the dandelions and daisies and sheperd’s purses in our meadow, but we wanted to make sure they leave the clover and nasturtiums and lupines alone.

Flax

Bryony

The pumpkins are going strong on top of the compost heap. I put them out much earlier than last year so I’m hopeful we’ll have a nice harvest. I had an experimental go at what is called The Three Sisters, that are maize plus climbing beans plus pumpkins. As we have strong winds pretty often and I wanted to grow climbing beans I felt it was a nice solution to have the maize as posts for the beans (with the pumpkins growing elsewhere). However, the beans are outgrowing the maize so I had to put up bamboo poles nonetheless. I’ve had to water this bed on a daily basis and it still looks like a bit of an adventure. But the broad beans nextdoor are doing well, and I had some old seeds of purple Mangetouts which are growing surprisingly strong.

We had a furious storm on Monday night. Tuesday morning the rain gauge revealed that just under 16 litres of water had fallen on to each square metre of ground. The pinks looked somewhat bedraggled. Some of the climbing beans succumbed to the strong winds, still not having attached themselves in time to either the maize plants or the bamboo poles. There were gaping holes in the soil where the water had hollowed the burrows of root voles and moles.

Iris

But most of the garden is fine despite the very strong winds and violent gusts dashing the hail against the window panes. We live on sandy soils and the large amount of water was welcome after what had been a rather hot and slightly windy weekend. We only just missed out on 30°C and it started getting humid.

As I write this dusk is closing in. It is after 10pm – the days are long, the sun rises early. The rooks that sleep in the oak trees wake up around 5.30am and straight away start telling each other the dreams they had last night. Soon the foxgloves will open their flowers, and the large bush of oxeye chamomille, too. And there will be more roses.

Patio rose Yorkshire Princess

First Winter

Neighbourhood in January

We are settling in gradually. There has been a nasty cold spell rather early in November that left us wondering what winter would be like here at our new home. We had expected it to be milder than where we used to live.

Cookies

We’ve had a number of tasty cakes, there have been stews and biscuits and flapjacks – which, for as long as I shall live, will remind me of Keswick youth hostel, where I had them for the first time.  But, basically, our first winter in the new home is still quite busy.

New windows

On a sunny day in November the new windows were built in on the front facing east. Originally there had been glass bricks in place. After breaking down the glass bricks the yard was covered in shards. The large door will be replaced next. The hinges are worn and each time we have strong easterly winds the door keeps rattling.

Medlar tree

In mid December we discovered that the young medlar trees we had planted only weeks before quite obviously were to the liking of the resident rabbits. So we needed to quickly build some protection for the young stems from the wire mesh we had used to keep the root voles off of the tulip bulbs.

In December there was not enough time for the painters to get all their work finished in the pressroom-to-be, so they resumed their work in January. The last task was the varnish for the concrete floor. There was no chance we could move the type cabinets and presses in any sooner than mid January.

Some snow

The builders had left part of their machinery in our back yard and in January some snow fell covering it all nicely. In the following days temperatures stayed low, there was no more snow but we had fog.

Fog in January

Now this is when you realise that there is a peat bog not far. Over a few days there was fog and frost and the fog set out to freeze on to all surfaces. It froze on to wire mesh and barbed wire, branches and twigs, leaves and spiderwebs.

Oak trees in January

The scenery became magical and almost surreal.

Front garden in January

The view to the west changed once more.

Into the west – January

We live in a very beautiful place all year round. The rooks still come for their lunch browsing our meadow. A family of magpies joins them every now and then. Geese travel to and fro over our farm. They might be roosting in the bog and feeding elsewhere – or the other way round.

As I write this the woodpeckers are hammering their trees and the little birds have started to sing their songs again. There will be another cold spell. But days are much longer than they were during winter proper. Soon spring will come and the tulips will start to grow and colour the garden.

Sunset early December

 

 

 

Garden Reloaded: The Raised Bed

 

Old bricks

Old bricks

At a fairly early stage I had the idea of having a raised bed for my herbs. With so many bricks having to go from the stable (during the process of turning the stable into the print room) it was tempting to have the raised bed with a red brick wall made from the old bricks, that had served as flooring in the stable for at least decades.

Shower of sleet in late April

Shower of sleet in late April

Our herbs sat waiting in their pots on our patio. In late April they got showered with sleet. There was a meadow to begin with, and a rumble strip with demolition waste, that I don’t know how many generations had a habit of dumping there. In the first place the debris had to go and the grass. The grass was easy to remove compared to all the rubble. The latter had to be dug out and this took me weeks. It was rusted keys and shards from cups and broken bricks and tiles and bits of concrete. And bones. Old bones, from cooking broth so I believe.

Weeding

Weeding and digging

Mr blackbird

Mr blackbird on the outline

In June I could put down the outline. The bed is facing southwest. It will have full sun from one side and the small pig stable in its back. The stable’s wall heats up considerably on hot summer days and reflects the heat of the sun until late in the evenings. Mr blackbird was very torn: the open soil made it so much easier for him to find food for his chicks, but that lady digging was a bit of a nuisance. This was when Mr and Mrs blackbird were raising their June chicks.

Windmill in Levern

Windmill in Levern

Raised bed in July

Raised bed in July

The village Oppenwehe is part of a municipality consisting of 13 villages and hamlets altogether. The municipal administration is located in the village Levern. It was there that I first saw that red bricks were used in traditional gardening around here. There is a little gathering of historical housings in Levern. They nestle around a large windmill, in which couples can get married. One of the old homes shows off a traditional farmer’s garden. And all the margins of the beds were neatly laid with red bricks. Putting in that margin around my bed-to-be took a while during July.

Raised bed in July after rain

Raised bed in July after rain

For some time there was very little progress as to the raised bed. There were so many other things on the agenda. In August we hit the road to fetch the bindery, but work resumed in September. We started to mix mortar and build the brick wall. By this time the old bricks had been waiting piled up on the site. They had got washed down repeatedly. We’d had torrential rain on one or two occasions. And all of a sudden there it was: a raised bed made from red bricks. We filled in the rest of the rubble for good drainage. Then we put in the sand that had been sitting in heaps around the bed. And on the sand we put a layer of garden soil mixed with compost.

Brick wall growing

Brick wall growing

Raised bed from red bricks

Raised bed from red bricks

Sand goes in

Sand goes in

By late September the herbs at long last could abandon their tiny pots and move into their new bed. Here they have plenty of space and all the sun they can wish for. There is two small bushes of rosemary, one sage and a variety of thyme. There is caraway and oregano and marjoram and parcel, which is a cross between parsley and celeriac.

Raised bed with herbs

Raised bed with herbs

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Some fellows are quick in making friends: the red admiral butterflies seemed to love the place from the start. A number of them kept coming back sitting on the bricks in the sun. And the bumblebees came to visit the lavender which is still in bloom.

sunflower-bronze

As I write this it has gone chilly outside. Temperatures have dropped rather quickly these past days. The swallows and martins have left for warmer regions. I have seen more geese flying in formation. The starlings are still here, though. The sunflowers show all shades of bronze and golden-brown. In the barn the nest of the white tailed bumblebees seems abandoned at last. And dusk sets in so much earlier in the evenings. But the sunsets are still as stunning as on our very first evening here.

Sunset September

Sunset September

Wildlife around our new home

Blackbird virgin flight

Blackbird virgin flight

We have moved to the countryside and it goes without saying that we are surrounded by what is commonly called wildlife. Some so far have not introduced themselves in person. They prefer to leave their business card. And they do so in numbers, well, we could have done with less.

Fresh molehills

Fresh molehills

Some make themselves heard in the darkblue very starry nights we have here. Quite certainly it will be some kinds of bird of prey. We hope to learn their names over the course of the years. Just across the small road to the west there is a field of maize and from out of there a pheasant has made its voice heard every now and then. Also, the area is home to bats. They come in the latter part of the blue hour hunting for whatever dares to be in the air at that time of the fading day. In spring it was cockchafer. Cockchafer grubs are living in the soil in good numbers and all sizes. There is a lot of oak trees around.

Cockchafer grubs

Cockchafer grubs

dead-beetle

wildlife-puppa

Swallows and barn martins are treating us to their flight shows. On a good day they chase off the falcon and after their success seem to give eachother what looks like a flown high-five. For the past two weeks or so every now and then they gathered on our roof chatting cheerfully and with a lot of hubbub – as they always do, even while hunting. I was wondering whether this could be some ritual to prepare for their upcoming migration. A family of redstarts is living in and around the barn. And wagtails search the meadow each time it is freshly cut. Up in the oak trees lining the small road magpies live and crows. And bussards draw their circles on the spotless summer sky – every so often chased away by either the crows or the magpies.

Wood pigeon

Wood pigeon

 

Heron

Heron

There are pigeons. Or doves for that matter. Currently, which is late August, the wood pigeons have their ramshackle nest from sticks in the back part of our barn. They have at least one chick, fluffy and dark grey. We have had a grey heron visiting and a stork in spring. A flock of cheerful sparrows is living in our front garden. The two purple hawthorn trees are theirs and the yews next to the hawthorns too. And we had blackbirds breeding in the corner of our patio. They had three clutches and raised twelve chicks.

Daddy blackbird

Daddy blackbird

 

Blackbird flegling in June

Blackbird flegling in June

Some wildlife has failed to leave while it was still time. I found the mumified carcass of a marten in the old hey in the barn. It was stuck between an almost ancient bale of hey and the brick wall, baring its teeth. A somewhat eerie sight in the twilight of an old barn. And our neighbour’s dog managed to cut one lad’s life short by catching a root vole in what is to become our back garden.

Late marten

Late marten

There have been butterflies almost right from the start. But with the meadow now having more flowers than grass they seem to have become much more abundant. Also there are two large bushes of privet in the front garden which have attracted a great many and all sorts of insect visitors during bloom. Plus we planted some flowers in our garden-to-be, amongst them lavender and sage, a white hollyhock and a few roses. The white butterflies obviously cannot resist the little yellow flowers that have sprung up in our meadow, presumably some kind of hawksbeard. It is their place to look out for a date. They dance in pairs or threes or fours up into the sky.

white-butterflies

butterfly

But other butterflies, like the small tortoiseshell, seem to clearly prefer our white Echinacea. The species that seems to be very abundant is red admiral. It is very eye catching with its brilliant black and red wings.

Red admiral

Red admiral

There are hoverflies as well and of course bumblebees and ladybirds. We have had a nest of white tailed bumblebees in a stack of old straw in the barn all summer. It seems abandoned now, as could be expected by September, but there are still bumblebees around. Some built their nest in crevices of the brick wall of the house. And there are midges or rather mosquitoes. I have seen the majestic hornets, the tottery daddy longlegs, and only recently, some golden-brown very delicate dragonflies have paid their visit. The place here not only is rural, but there is a peat bog not far, too. So dragonflies do not come as a total surprise.

Borage visitor

Borage visitor

It was to be expected that a certain proportion of our plums would be claimed for dinner before we could harvest them. Tiny pink larvae were eating them up from within. We have put up large barrels to collect rain water from the downpipes. The vessels got inhabited in a blink. Almost from the start little swimming beetles raced around. Later the larvae of great diving beetles caught whatever they could catch. They are known to be greedy.

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

As I write this it is a sunny late summer afternoon. Temperatures have gone down to the mid-twenties. The old ivy on the wall of the little stable is in its early bloom – much to the solitary bees’ liking.

 

Straw

oldstraw-hey

When visiting the farm for the first time, we knew in an instant there would be a number of challenges connected with our new home. One of them was to move out the old oak-style furniture. In the end it all added up to some two tonnes of chairs and tables and wardrobes that went. This sounds a lot. But there was a challenge bigger than that waiting for us: old straw.

Old straw in the barn as it looked in January

Old straw in the barn as it looked in January

In fact it is old straw plus old hey. Either partly in the form of bales and partly loose. The straw/hey was packed mainly in two spaces: the attic and the barn. The straw and hey had been in there for at least the past 15 or 20 years. But part of it might have been sitting there for significantly longer – considering the state it is in.

Old straw in the barn in early August

Old straw in the barn in early August

The stuff in the attic was mainly bales. They were tightly and meticulously packed and in places some strength was needed to haul them out from underneath a beam. The bales were easy to handle but it was an awful lot. Even after far more than 20 loads have gone so far, there is still one load of bales waiting to be given a lift. At first the bales got loaded onto a trailer through a hole in the ceiling of what is called the „Deele“, the large farm working-entrance hall.

"Deele" with trailer to load some bales of straw from the attic

“Deele” with trailer to load some bales of straw from the attic

Later we started throwing the bales through one of the windows in the attic with the trailer parked underneath in the meadow. One advantage was that we could feed more bales onto the trailer as it had not to squeeze through the farm door when leaving. The other advantage was we did not have straw distributing itself in the house all over the place. The straw and hey is being used as bedding for livestock.

Old straw in the attic

Old straw in the attic

The stuff in the barn is a different story alltogether. Much of it is loose with some bales hidden in between. The bottom part of it, sitting directly on the brick floor, shows signs of a slow process of decomposition. Large brown sheets have formed, in a way resembling papyrus. In the far left hand side corner of the barn some kind of white-tailed bumblebees have their nest in the old straw-hey mixture. They are quite not amused about anybody manipulating their home. They’ll let you know instantly with a do-not-mess-with-us buzzing sound. The bumblebees will abandon nest in September and have a new one next spring. Thus we can clear away the nest once the bumblebees have left it.

Paper-weight egg found in the old straw

Light-weight egg found in the old straw

Even within the straw and hey in the barn unexpected treasures emerge: an egg as light as paper. I know there used to be a henhouse on the premises, but it got pulled down very long ago. How old this egg might be? We’ll never know.

compost-built-up

By chance I came across a book outlining a method of decomposing straw and hey. It sounded interesting and like some sort of solution for some of the loose stuff we have. There is no shortage of space to pile up heaps of straw for letting it rot away. We needed to have compost heaps anyway for all the grass we had to cut and for weeds and other stuff that had to go from where it was currently growing. We now have composters of different styles working. One is built from old oak beams we found in one of the stables. Two are simple heaps set up layer by layer.

compost-oakbeam

I spent days putting up compost piles and packing old straw out of the barn wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. While piling up the old material it had to be mixed with nitrogen fertilizer of some sort. I decided on pellets of manure. It keeps the little helpers going while they eat up all the old straw and turn it into compost for gardening. Apart from nitrogen – and phosphor and potassium – they need moisture. Consequently I kept watering the heaps while it was hot and dry in July. With the beginning of August we got some nice and steady rain that works well with the heaps of straw. They seem to be rotting quite nicely, feeling moderately warm inside.

straw-compost-fence

straw-compost-stables-0

I stuffed pumpkin seeds into one of them. I do not hope to be harvesting any pumpkins in autumn. I wanted a plant producing great big leaves to cover the surface of the heap and prevent it from loosing its moisture. The heaps of straw are big and it takes a while to water them and there is so much else to do. The first half dozen seedlings are showing and maybe there will be more to come.

Pumpkin seedlings

Pumpkin seedlings

straw-compost-mushroom

With part of the straw having been in a state of decomposition already there are fungi and mushrooms appearing on the straw within days. The tiny grey mushrooms are pretty short lived. They last a day or two and melt away quickly. I am curious how the heaps will develop.

august-rain

As I write this it is overcast and has cooled down considerably compared to just a week ago, when it was still hot and dry and kind of like an old fashioned summer in the countryside. The steady rain had started early this morning and now everything is thoroughly moistened. The pumpkins are doing their best to grow large leaves.

tripod