Know how many beans make five.

You can do a wealth of good to our climate, the soils and all those little pollinators around by simply eating beans. And if you even opt to top this: grow the beans yourself. This is easy going: in your garden, in your raised bed or even on your balcony. Beans have been grown by humans for thousends of years and are one of the oldest crops we have. And soon comes the perfect time to sow them.

Pod of climbing Borlotto next to hops

Why is eating beans good for the climate? Beans are very rich in protein. They are high in nutritional value for whoever eats them. If we eat them ourselves, all the nutrition and energy value can be used by our own body. If we feed the beans to cattle, poultry or pigs, all the nutritional and energy value will be used by those animals. From the beans they eat they will built bones and skin, hooves and teeth, hair, feathers and keep up their body temperature, some of what they eat will go as poo & pee, and only what ist left they will turn into steaks or sausages respectively.

Climbing beans flowering visited by common brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni)

Thus on the way of producing steaks or sausages the animals use up some of the nutritional value for themselves. So, the steaks and sausages will come with a lower energy level than the beans had in the first place. Add to this: while growing steaks and sausages the pigs and cattle produce greenhouse gases like CO2.Thus, eating the beans ourselves means we can make use of the whole of the energy contained in the beans and we‘ll save some of the greenhouse gases otherwise produced by the life stock.

What about the soil? Beans are special in that they are team players. They do not just grow on their own. They team up with special bacteria. The roots of the beans grow tiny bumps for the bacteria to live in. Thus sheltered the bacteria thankfully take up Nitrogen from the surrrounding air, turn it into fertilizer, and share it with the bean plant. This is the reason why you do not need to give your beans the sort and amount of fertilizer other plants desperately need: the beans make their own, well: they have it made by their little friends. Since producing artificial fertilizers uses up a lot of energy and thus produces a great amount of green house gases, growing crops that do not need such fertilizers comes in handy when trying to keep one’s CO2 footstep small.

Climbing beans: Blauhilde

But the beans do not stop at giving their bacteria a home to start fix nitrogen from thin air, so to speak. They also feed all sorts of pollinators: butterflies and bees and bumblebees, to name but a few. Beans‘ flowers are white or colourful red, pink or violet and come with pollen and nectar.

Bumblebee on flowers of climbing beans

Unless you are dealing with Broad Beans, wait with sowing until the soil has warmed up a bit after winter. In not particularly mild regions this would be mid May. The period of 12-15 May in some years brings a last frosty spell of weather in the Northern Hemisphere: called the Ice Saints („Eisheilige“). Here a good rule of thumb is to sow your beans after the last of the Ice Saints has passed, which would be Cold Sophia („Kalte Sophie“) on 15 May. In cold soil the beans will just not germinate but sit and wait. Being patient and sowing a little later will be thanked by quicker growth of the plants. So there is no need to put the seeds out too early. Once the plants start to bring out their flowers they need enough moisture in the soil. In dry periods they will need to be watered regularly but do not soak them.
Often beans are sown every 10 or so days to ensure a longer harvest. Read the instructions on the sachet of the variety you have chosen and then have a gow. With a couple of seasons of practice you will know which variety wants which sort of treatment in your location.

Bean poles
Bush Beans: Purple Teepee
Climbing Borlotto Beans: pods

One special method of cultivating beans is the „Three Sisters“ method traditionally used in regions of South America. Here beans, maize and squash are grown together. The maize will give the support to the beans and the pumpkin leaves will cover the soil to keep the moisture in.

Climbing beans with maize (corn) as support

My experience is, that this is a pretty good way to cultivate the three, if you opt for dry beans, maize for starch, i.e. flour, and pumpkins for pumpkins. This means you plant all three, and let them grow undisturbed throughout summer, until the beans and the corn cobs are fully ripe and dry. Then you harvest them all in virtually one go. You then have the beans and maize for storage and winter food. If you wish to pick green beans for vegetables and sweet corn to nibble, it will be hard to harvest them, since the „Three Sisters“ will grow to something resembling a small forest.

Broad Beans: Crimson flowering
Broad Beans: flowering

Broad beans
These are the only ones sown really early: the seeds can be sown outdoors from February onwards. They do not mind cold weather, even frost, and by the time the warm days start bringing in blackflies the stems will have grown a thicker skin and won‘t be so easily infected by those aphids. Broad Beans produce large pods and the seeds are big too. They can be used for stews („Eintöpfe“), for stir fry dishes and salads, and can be very aromatic.

Broad Beans: young plants
Broad Beans: pods
Broad Beans: harvest of fresh seeds

Green bean: 
Green beans differ in that one group is climbing and needs poles and the other growing as little bushes with no need of support. In each group there is a wealth of varieties. Flowers can be white or bright red, pods can be green, blue to purple or green with red stripes, and seeds will be anything from white, pink, dark red to brown and speckled, either huge or small.

Dry beans: Borlotto on top, varieties of the Scarlett runner bean bottom left & right.

Often the blue or purple pods will turn green during cooking. And cook they must, uncooked beans are poisonous. After cooking green beans make a lovely vegetable dish and can be made into very nice summer salads.
Some of the beans grow fibrous pods, i.e. they are not so much fun to eat as vegetables dish because of the long and rather sturdy fibers. Those varieties are better left to produce dry beans. In the northern parts of Germany these fibrous pods traditionally are made into a regional speciality called „Schnippelbohnen“ – in some respect this dish is a bit like Marmite: either love it or hate it.
Dry beans make lovely stews („Eintöpfe“) and of course the white varieties are needed for Baked Beans. And they can be made into phantastic salads, too.

The bean‘s cousins: peas and lentils
Peas, Mangetouts and lentils are also members of the larger bean family, so to speak. They are all of the Fabaceae family and come with their Nitrogen fixing bacteria. Their seeds are rich in protein and they can be used for a great number of tasty meals.

Mang-tout peas purple pod and flowers

Peas
Contrary to beans peas like it cool. They won‘t do well in hot, dry and tropical conditions. They come in climbing or vining varieties and in low-growing, their pods are mostly green, but there are purple ones, too. The seeds are either green or yellow. Some are mange-tout, meaning they can be eaten in whole while the seeds inside the pods are still small. Others are „sweet peas“ where the seeds only are eaten. They can be eaten fresh as vegetables and, another difference to beans, they can be eaten uncooked. The fresh peas cooked are lovely vegetable and go perfectly with Shepherd’s Pie. Alternatively they can be harvested for dry peas – which was the original use since medieval times – and then make lovely soups and stews.

Mange-tout peas flowering

Lentils
One more cousin of the bean is the lentil. These are delicate plants with tiny but very beautiful flowers. They need some support otherwise they will lie on the floor and felter when getting wet. Some people grow them together with oats, so the oat stems give the support to the lentils. Lentils are known to improve soil quality which very likely might be due to them having their own nitrogen-fixing bacteria, as have all members of the Fabaceae.

Very young lentil plants

The seeds of lentils come in a great variety of colours from brown, multicoloured or marbled to red and bright yellow. They make lovely soups, salads, curry dishes and stews. They are very common in oriental regions as well as in India and Africa. But they are also well known in the Mediterranean and in European regions north of the Alps. Probably THE traditional dish in Swabia is „Linsen mit Spätzle“, a lentil soup with – originally – handmade spätzle, seasoned with vinegar. Spätzle are made from a dough (eggs, water, flower and salt) and traditionally are scraped with a knife from a special wooden board straight into slightly boiling water. A couple of years ago in the region of the Swabian Alb Mountains the cultivation of „Alb Leisa“ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alb-Leisa) has been taken up again, a cultivar that has typically been used for this traditional dish in Swabia.

Lentils: young pods

Supplier for organic vegetable seeds in Germany are:

Bingenheimer Saatgut AG, Kronstraße 24, 61209 Echzell, www.bingenheimersaatgut.de

Dreschflegel Bio-Saatgut, In der Aue 31, 37213 Witzenhausen, 
www.dreschflegel-saatgut.de

Information and seeds of traditional and endangered cultivars provides 
VEN Verein zur Erhaltung der Nutzpflanzenvielfalt e. V.: www.nutzpflanzenvielfalt.de

Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) another member of the Fabaceae tribe – good for the soil (with nitrogen fixing bacteria), loved by bees and bumblebees and simply beautiful in the garden


Corn Cockle

Corn Cockle – Agrostemma githago

Some 5000 years ago corn cockle was known to the early farmer already. It was a constant in fields of cereals. Only when seed cleaning and weed killers became widespread, corn cockle became rare. 1996 it was short of extinction in Germany. Now, the humble beauty has started making gardens its new home. 

Like cornflower corn cockle is an archeophyte, a plant not native but introduced at a very early stage, infact it has become part of our flora in prehistoric times. Originally it might have been native to the oriental regions. It is tightly connected to early farming: corn cockle was harvested, threshed and in the end sown together with the respective cereal – and it got itself perfectly adapted to this procedure. The seeds are approximately the size of cereal grains.

The seed capsules are narrower at the top, so the seeds will stay in unless they get their threshing. The seeds will germinate immediatly after sowing, just like cereal grains, and thus grow together with the crop. The sepals grow quite long and stand above the rest of the crop to take in the sunlight for photosynthesis. 

Botanically corn cockle is a member of the carnation family, known to the gardener as pinks. Their flowers have five sepals and petals, the seeds grow within a bulbous seed capsule. The green calyx is covered by fine shiny hair that will look just magical when full of droplets of dew. Corn cockle can grow to a height of 140 cm, their roots can go as deep as 80 cm. The whole plant is poisenous. It is a hardy annual which when germinating in autumn will build a rosette of leaves and withstand even severe frost. The scarlet flowers, which are almost white in their inner parts, shine from June until August. They are visited by a variety of pollinators mainly hover flies, butterflies and bees. This is true for both the wild scarlet and the white garden variety.

Corn cockle will grow in almost any soil, but it definitely prefers a sunny spot. It can form its own crowd and look like a scarlet ocean swaying in the wind. It is a valuable flower for many pollinators and when combined with poppies, cornflower and daisies will make a stunning spot in the garden that will be eagerly visited by pollinators.

Recommended for any gardener with nature on their mind:
Adrian Thomas „Gardening for Wildlife – A Complete Guide to Nature-friendly Gardening“ 2017, Bloomsbury, London+NY

Suppliers of ecological seeds and plants of wildflowers (please check for customs restrictions if planning to order from outside Germany):
Bingenheimer Saatgut AG, Kronstraße 24, 61209 Echzell, www.bingenheimersaatgut.de
Dreschflegel Bio-Saatgut, In der Aue 31, 37213 Witzenhausen,
www.dreschflegel-saatgut.de
Hof Berg-Garten, Björn Lau, Lindenweg 17, D-79737 Herrischried,
www.hof-berggarten.de

2021 Gardener’s Logbook

31 Januar

Ende Januar hat der Raureif alles verzaubert. Noch geht es den Rosmarinbüschen und den Ölweiden bestens.

31 Januar

Das Ringbeet liegt ruhig. Ziersalbei und Wermut, Diptam und Elfenbeinginster ruhen sich aus und warten auf wärmere Zeiten.

19. Juni

Im Sommer wird das Ringbeet dann so aussehen: üppig besetzt mit Ziersalbei, der wenn er müde ist, vom langen Blühen, abgelöst wird von Ysop, daneben Pfingstrosen, Scheinsonnenhut, Echter Salbei … und alle voller Bienen, Hummeln und Schmetterlingen.

2 Februar

Im Juni 2021 hatten wir hier knapp 5 Tonnen Bauschutt ausgegraben, um ein neues Beet für die Rhododendren zu schaffen. Sie haben sich gut eingelebt und zeigen sich dankbar für den Platz, an dem im Sommer zur Mittagshitze der alte Schweinestall Schatten spendet. Auch der Stechginster hat sich gut entwickelt – hier hat er eine Haube aus Jute. Als angekündigt wurde, dass die Temperaturen ungewöhnlich tief sinken sollen, wurde noch rasch eingepackt, was einzupacken war: die neue gepflanzten Schneeforsythien, der Ananasginster, der Baummohn, der Schneeflockenstrauch. Anfang Februar ist es dann tatsächlich bitter kalt geworden und es hat angefangen zu schneien.

7 Februar

Die Mengen an Schnee waren so ungewöhnlich wie die Tiefe der Temperaturen: bis zu -17 Grad musste der Garten aushalten. Für manche Pflanze war der Temperaturgang grenzwertig: am 6. Februar lag die Temperatur morgens um 6 Uhr bei 0°, am 13. Februar hatten wir zur gleichen Tageszeit -17° erreicht und am 16. Februar waren es +3°, nachdem es am Tag zuvor gleich 7mm Regen gegeben hatte. Den restlichen Grünkohl konnten wir noch ernten und genießen.

8 Februar

In den verschneiten Resten der Zuckermaispflanzen sitzt ein Rotkehlchen. Der Schnee türmte sich enorm, auch weil starke Winde die Dächer blank geweht und den Schnee von dort auch noch im Garten abgelegt haben. Der Sturm hat den Schnee durch kleinste Ritzen unter die Dächer der alten Höfe geweht – hier waren wir alle dabei, den Schnee von den Dachböden zu schippen, damit der Kram nicht durch die Decke trieft, wenn alles taut.

8 Februar

Die Tür zur Terrasse war ein ganze Zeitlang vom Schnee blockiert und nicht zu benutzen. Hier weht gerade ein Böe noch mehr Schnee vom Dach vor die Tür.

13 Februar

Winterschön: In der Dämmerung der sternklaren Nacht hat sich Raureif auf die Eichen gelegt. Ein Streif Nebel oder besser gesagt Rauch (gefrorener Nebel) hängt noch in der kalten Luft. Dass nicht wenige in der Gegend etliche Tage eingeschneit waren, dass stellenweise der Schnee praktisch knietief lag und selbst zu Fuß nur schlecht voranzukommen war, das sieht man dieser Winteridylle nicht gleich an.

13 Februar

Gräser und Hagebutten verzaubert vom Reif, die Vogeltränke mit einer dicken Schneehaube: die Futterstellen für die Vögel waren gut besucht. Ende Februar fräsen wir einige Beetränder, am 23. Februar wird der Nachmittag +17° warm.

8 Februar

Die Ölweiden haben als erste gezeigt, dass sie leiden. Auf dem Bild vom 8. Februar zeigen sich schon erste dürre Blätter. vor allem im Gipfelbereich und ganz außen, wo der Ostwind in die Büsche gebissen hat.

6 April

Das Bild vom 6. April zeigt, dass die Sträucher komplett dürr sind. Wir hatten bereits konkret geplant, womit wir sie ersetzen, als sie spät im Sommer doch wieder durchgetrieben haben. Den linken Busch haben wir dennoch rausgenommen und erst mal in einen geräumigen Kübel gepflanzt und geschützt gestellt. Er stand an der Ecke vom Schweinestall, um die der Ostwind besonders heftig pfeift. Dort steht jetzt ein Goldregen, der ist härter im Nehmen als die Ölweiden.

6 April

Die Narzissen gehören zu den ersten, die dem neuen Jahr Farbe schenken. In der Mitte des Ringbeetes steht der Apfeldorn mit einem kleinen Meer von Narzissen zu seinen Füßen.

6 April

Hier sind es noch fünf, mittlerweile sind es sieben: sie sollen zu einem kleinen Holzapfel-Wäldchen heranwachsen. Den Unterwuchs machen Schneeglöckchen und Fingerhut. Die Holzapfelbäume sind nicht die einzigen Neuzugänge. Auch zwei Apfel-Hochstämme der Sorte Brettacher haben sich zu uns gesellt. Die Birne Geishirtle, der letztes Jahr von Wühlmaus und Engerlingen in Teamarbeit schwer zugesetzt worden war, hat sich seither im Kübel gut erholt, einen festen Wurzelballen gebildet und konnte im Frühjahr frisch ausgepflanzt werden.

6 April

Zur Straße hin ist eine freiwachsende Hecke gepflanzt, nach innen von der Wiese nun abgegrenzt durch den Lavendelbogen. Die Sträucher hatten an anderen Stellen bereits eine Zeitlang gestanden und sind nun im Frühjahr hierher umgezogen. Die Bienen haben die Blüten im Sommer sofort gefunden.

21 April

Nun mischen auch die weißen Narzissen mit – sie sind ein wenig später dran als die gelben.

21 April

Unsere neue Waldkiefer hat Gesellschaft bekommen: Wildtulpen der Sorte Tarda haben sich um den knorrigen Stamm herum angesiedelt.

27 April

Neben den verschiedenen Meisen und einem Pulk Sperlinge sind Buntspecht und Eichelhäher Stammgäste geworden. Der kleine Zaunkönig schaut meist eher im Winter vorbei, wie das Rotkehlchen. Der Ölweide sieht man die Kälteschäden noch deutlich an, genau wie den buntlaubigen Ligustern, die im Vorgarten stehen. Auch ein Kirschlorbeer ist zurückgefroren, treibt aber wieder durch, ebenso die mächtigen Rosmarinbüsche im Hochbeet – allerdings müssen sie von unten wieder neu anfangen. Die Apothekerrose hat es nicht geschafft. Am 19. Mai bekommen wir Besuch von einem Paar Rebhühner.

1 Juni

Wo zu Anfang Beifuß den Hausgarten gegen die Wiese eingrenzte, wachsen jetzt Iris. Dies ist eine der Schönheiten, die neu dazu gekommen sind und nun zum ersten Mal blühen.

1 Juni

Da auch dieses Jahr pandemiebedingt wieder nahezu alle Buchkunstmessen ausfallen, entschließen wir uns, den restlichen Bauschutt auszugraben. Diesmal dauert das wesentlich länger als im vorigen Jahr. Einerseits, weil die Fläche größer ist, andererseits weil es im Frühjahr reichlich regnet und der Boden schlicht zu nass ist, als dass man darin nach Ziegelsteinen, Dachplattenstücken, Fliesenscherben und alten Flaschen suchen könnte.

3 Juli

Zwischenzeitlich war die Sonnen zu kräftig und unser Pavillon musste als Schattenspender für die Arbeit herhalten.

2 August

Nach gut drei Monaten war die Mulde gut voll: über 6 Tonnen Bauschutt vergangener Generation haben sich darin nun gesammelt.

13. Juni: Margeriten und Ziersalbe im Ringbeet
18. Juli: Stangenbohnen, Zuckerschoten, Linsen und die Dicken Bohnen sind ganz rechts draußen

Geerntet haben wir einiges: jede Menge Johannisbeeren und Stachelbeeren. Ein erstes kleines Körbchen mit Äpfeln von der Goldparmäne. Die Buschbohnen haben genug getragen zum Genießen und Einfrieren. Die Roten Bete sind klein geblieben dieses Jahr, der Zuckermais auch. Dafür sind die Sonnenblumen umso größer geworden. Die Dicken Bohnen haben kräftig getragen, die Linsen auch, aber hier waren die kleinen Waldmäuse etwas schneller beim Ernten als wir. Sie haben uns aber durchaus noch Linsen gelassen. Die Stangenbohnen durften bleiben, bis die Hülsen braun und die Kerne reif waren – das hat eine gute Ernte ergeben.

18. Juli: Buschbohne Purple Teepee
26. August: Wespenspinne

Sie fühlt sich hier pudelwohl: dort, wo Gras und Zottelwicke nicht abgemäht sind, leben abertausende von kleinen Heuschrecken, und das ist genau das, was einer Wespenspinne gefällt.

16 September

Ein herbstlicher Sonnenuntergang, der die Sonnenblumen leuchten macht. Nachher wird es einen großen Regenbogen geben und eine Formation Gänse wird vor ihm vorbeiziehen.

21 November

Die Astern halten noch lange die Farbe im Garten. Im Herbst wird noch ein Goldregen gepflanzt und ein weidenblättriger Sanddorn. Den alten Flieder im Vorgarten werden wir wohl auf den Stock setzen müssen.

2 Dezember

Raureif – wie zu Anfang des Jahres, hier im Sonnenuntergang und mit den braun gewordenen Gräsern und dem großen Blütenstand der Hortensie. Solange der Boden noch offen und weich ist, kann noch gejätet werden – dabei ist viel nachzuholen.

What.a.year.

The past years were special, each in its own right: 2018 was hot and dry. 2019 not as bad as 2018 but still hot and dry enough. And 2020 was totally different. With all studio-and-book arts-related fairs and events just not happening, there was a lot of time to spend on something else.

Next to printing and making books comes the garden. So here we go.

February came with an icing. Winters have not been too hard lately, this one was not much of an exception. Even though I am not a fan of lots of snow and long icy periods, I have started wishing for conditions reducing the number of root voles to a healthy level. And I mean healthy with respect to our fruit trees, beet root and kale – all of which have suffered from the beasts.

Pheasant visiting in February

I would like to stress that most of our animal visitors or full-time and part-time residents are welcome. The colourful pheasant keeps coming every now and then. There are a great many of small birds, and, guessing from the great variety of droppings, there are many fury visitors as well.

March gifted us with the colours of the hellebore plants.

In May the tulips were still beauties in their own right. There was nice company from our black pansies.

We put up the bean poles while the broom was in bloom.

We had a colourful early harvest – and tasty, too, while the kale was only just starting to go strong.

June brought abundance to the flower beds. It felt like if all the flowers were frolicking that, after two years of hardship, they were allowed to grow and bloom properly again.

We could watch our first own quinces to slowly grow and start developing their bright yellow colour and their lovely scent.

Bryony

However, there is always a “but”. The rhododendrons were suffering. They had been planted some two years ago and the past two summers had been far too sunny and too dry for the still not quite established plants. Normally they would have been able to do well underneath the huge old oak trees. But in fact they did not. The question was: where could they go instead? The only spot that could provide some shade over the sunny daytime hours was in the back of the former pig stable. We knew we would unearth rubble once we started digging down to prepare a bed for the rhododendrons. But the amount of rubble still came as a surprise.

Within one month, June, we dug out some 5 tons of rubble. We had ordered a container, so it could go right in there straight away. All the broken bricks and roof tiles and floor tiles and bathroom wall tiles and bits&pieces of concrete went. An endless stream of wheel barrows filled with compost went in to replace the huge volume that had gone by taking out all the rubble. On the last day of June the rhododendrons had arrived in their new and hopefully forever home. So far they seem to be happy and thriving.

We are happy to provide a sip for whoever is in need. Our resident sparrows and robins and tits love to come for a bath in the puddles we create on our patio floor over the summer.

As one of our apple trees had been badly mauled by the root voles and we still do not know whether it might be beyond recovery, we decided to have another one and went for the variety “Kaiser Wilhelm”. It appears that the heat of the previous two hot summers has done something to the structure of the sandy soil, at least in some places. So we dug out a plot of approx. 2 x 2 metres and exchanged most of the soil in there. We wanted to give the new tree not only a good start but also provide for a strong growth afterwards.

Late in autumn we planted a number of old and wild plum varieties as part of our free growing hedge along the main road. These are to replace the losses of shrubs we had, caused by root vole activity since we first planted the hedge in late 2017. We hope the plums will have more strength to grow back roots that have been eaten away. We welcomed a number of newcomers: a nicely grown pine tree and a special sort of elm tree, some roses, a hydrangea and two white forsythias.

There was still more digging to be done. The summer hedge made up from common mugwort we used to have on the perimeter of the house garden was to go. Not only had it gone shaggy it was also showering the garden with its seeds and we had mugwort growing all over the place. We decided we wanted to have irises instead. So all the mugwort had to go and irises had to come in. We already had some bluish ones, but we gave them company with white ones and dark purple. So we are looking forward to next spring, when they hopefully will show off all their colours and beauty.

As I write this the days and nights have become chilly. We had a number of mornings with white frost already and some days with lovely November fog. There is still some colour in the garden with very late cornflowers and some golden-brown chrysanthemums. Lotta has grown into a jolly, playful, loving family dog. She will be three years old next week.

On the Brink of Winter

Full Moon in January

After the dry and rather hot summer of 2018 we had hoped for less heat and more rain during 2019. Obviously 2019 was different from 2018, but it was another dry year at least over some periods. However, there was more rain in total. From August onwards we did have more rain than average, in October it was almost twice as much. Add to this: 2019 was not as hot as 2018. This, plus the cloud cover we had, meant we had less evaporation. Over the past few weeks the soil has been moist on the surface almost permanently, either by rain or from dew, fog or the odd white frost.

Early in the year our barn kept us busy. All the old straw and hey had to go. In early March the last load left on a trailer, leaving us with clearing out the rest. Right on the bottom of it all was a layer that could be rolled up like a large carpet. This was all to go on to our compost heap.

8 April 2019

April looked quite promising. The daffodils are going strong and the meadow looks green again, at least in places. Even though: much of the green is in fact moss covering the places that burnt blank during last years heat. And then there was some late snow in mid April enchanting the garden.

13 April 2019
13 April 2019

Luckily it did not do any harm to our pear trees that were in bloom already.

May colored the rhododendrons and the irises joined in.

And then along came June. It gifted us with a wealth of poppies, cornflowers and corn campions. We bathed in seas of red and blue and purple.

7 June 2019
7 June 2019
7 June 2019

A wall of foxgloves stood out in the back between all the rhododendrons radiating in all the colours they could think of.

7 June 2019

Let me introduce you to Jacquelin du Pre. She is a beauty in her own right and a rose dearly loved by hover flies.

24 June 2019

With the sun getting strong some plants needed a bit more shade. During the past three years I had been to basket weaving workshops at Kerstin’s. All my baskets were meant to go in the garden for shading plants in need. And they did a really good job. The one I made this year reminded me somewhat of the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts.

24 June 2019

The rye we had put out the year before was going strong this year. It was almost 2 metres high and it got itself infested with ergot. They, too, grew impressively strong.

21 July 2019

We do have a number of fruit trees in our garden, but we had been fancying a mirabelle tree for quite a while. And this year we came across one we felt wanted to be part of our orchard. We planted it in spring and it grew well. It came with a couple of wee little green fruits. To our great surprise they took another route than we had expected:

21 July 2019

We rang the nursery to ask whether there was any chance that there is a blue variety. But they said no. So, now we have a plum tree with no name. We decided to keep it.

21 July 2019

We thought the old balcony pots might look nice mounted on what used to be a stable door. The nasturtiums quite liked it there.

8 September 2019

These are our climbing beans prior to the root voles having a go at them. We still did harvest some of them and they were nice and tasty – the beans, even though I would like to get rid of all the root voles, I do not fancy having them for dinner.

20 September 2019

In late September we checked all the nest boxes. One pair of blue tits had their own ideas as to nesting. They chose to nest behind this old little door. During the times pigs were kept in that stable, this door was used for mucking out. We walled it up from the inside to keep unwanted rodents out. But, to some there is room in the smallest chamber. See you next spring, lads.

21 October 2019

As I write this the mole is working eagerly its way through all of our meadow doing its job regarding the grubs. There are mole hills all over the place. The bird feeders are crowded, which makes us hope some of those little ones will be there in spring for the nest boxes again. It is still mild, which leaves the soils open for the rain to trickle away and go down to fill up the store of water in the depth.

An almost endless summer

This summer was a challenge for two reasons. Firstly: it started in mid April with temperatures rising to 30 degrees and lastet well into October. And even though November has seen the odd morning with white frost it is still too mild for the season. Secondly: there was hardly any rain.

Since we moved here in 2016 we have planted more than 30 trees and well over 40 shrubs and bushes. Most of them had been in the soil for less than or not much over one year, so the ongoing lack of rain was putting them at considerable risk. Starting from April until well into October watering the bushes and young trees was a main concern.

During spring and early summer there was a wealth of poppies and cornflowers and bees and bumblebees were feasting. I desperately tried to keep the crimson clover alive and it started flowering in early autumn. We had a large plot of buckwheat which the bees enjoyed and once the seeds appeared the plot got invaded by sparrows.

We had a patch with rye which mostly succumbed to the drought. But the crown-of-the-field was going strong. The patches with flax were doing well. Some of the rhododendrons kept struggling and some even did not manage to open their flowers due to lack of water.

After last year’s failure to bear fruit due to a spell of rather late frost, this year the fruit trees went bonkers with blooming and making apples and pears. Unfortunately the latter became gradually more difficult due to the lack of rain. Most of our young apples got infestated by insect larvae. Some just stopped growing and ended up as miniature apples eventhough they were meant to grow into propper edible fruit. But we got a fair share of pears and a few apples.

Our sunflowers were thriving. At first they were full with bumble bees and once they started building seeds they got raided by the birds. They all came to feed: blue tits and great tits, goldfinches and greenfinches, sparrows and willow tits. The goldfinches came as a family with three youngsters. Later in summer they all were joined by chaffinches and the little wren came back – no idea where it had spent summer, but it had been there in early spring already. In November a cheeky robin appeared feasting on the left over elder berries.

The climbing beans waited out summer and started flowering and producing beans once the days got shorter and the worst heat had gone around September. We did have a bumper crop of beet root and black currants and a fair share of sweet corn. And pumpkins. This year it was Hokkaidos, Sweet Dumpling and White Acorn.

In late May Lotta came to complete the team. Back then she was around half a year of age and we picked her up at an animal shelter. As far as we know she had not been living with people so far, and a lot of pretty ordinary things were completely unknown to her. On a first encounter she decides to sit down and think about it.

She chewed up a couple of things but luckily she learned pretty quickly to keep her teeth off cables and she did not ruin any of our shoes. She has grown into a friendly funny little mate and we love her to bits. There is still a lot she needs to learn but she is young enough so there is still time. We have started attending dog school in summer and she is making good progress.

With having the dog we now get out and about much more. This is lovely because we do live in a beautiful spot and in autumn the cranes come to rest and you can see them feed in the fields – which is not to every farmers liking. Nevertheless they are impressive birds.

Our house garden was getting along fairly well in the dry weather, apart from the hydrangeas. They are thirsty plants and wish for a fair share of rain. I kept watering them but they did not manage to grow to their usual size. The roses, though, and the grasses could take advantage of the dry weather, mainly because we did have no strong winds or gusts. So the grasses still stand in their beauty as they did not get torn to pieces by gales.

We almost lost one of our medlar trees to root voles. The roots had gone alltogether. I put the young tree in a pot with good compost soil and kept it in a sheltered place on the patio. It dropped all its buds, but kept its leaves that were far too tiny. At some point in summer it started growing new leaves of normal size. Now its leaves are golden and it prepares for winter. Next spring we will plant it out again. From our second medlar tree we got a nice first harvest which made for three jars of medlar jelly. We had our first three walnuts but their size does not seem right.

By the time I write this it has gone dark outside. Not all of the resting cranes have left by now. Autumn has coloured the foliage of the trees bright yellow and golden. They days have gone short and rain is falling every now and then. We could do with a couple of weeks of ongoing rain to moisten the dried out soils.

Summerly spring

When we moved in here two years ago, there was no garden. The whole plot was a meadow cut several times a year to feed cattle. It was an ocean of green forage grass. No trees, no bushes, no flowers.

We planted our first trees in late 2016. Among them were a walnut tree, a pear tree, a few apple trees and two medlar trees. We put up a raised bed for herbs and over the past two years a number of bushes and flowering plants have been planted as well as black and red currants and gooseberries. We have come much nearer to something that can be labelled a garden.

Spring this year is giving our garden a hard time in a way. To begin with there was the „Beast from the East“, or as we called it here „March Winter“. It came with two bitterly cold snaps, and to make things worse, there was somethig like a week in-between with pretty mild temperatures. By the time the second Siberian snap hit, some plants had already switched into end-of-hibernation-mode. To make things even more challenging, shortly after the rather late winter frost there followed a period of summerly temperatures reaching up to 30 degrees in April. Add to this there was not much rain over the whole of April and we have had barely any rain in May so far. Instead, we are having blue sky, sunny days with an at times gusty wind and temperatures well over 20 degrees for weeks. There are a few newcomers in the garden planted only recently, which now need some shelter from the sun and the wind. The willow baskets I made last year during a workshop come in handy now.

Sheltered rose

We have had losses and near-losses. And a considerable number of plants can clearly be seen fighting through the challenging conditions. Some of the herbs, mainly thyme, which is very much to the liking of a great number of butterflies and bumblebees, have frozen back to almost nothing. They are still struggeling to recover, but, pretty surprisingly, it looks as if most of them would be back for their visitors in time. The two buckthorns went strong after the winter, but one of them went all floppy recently and needed to be watered. Of the two wild pear trees we have, whose home are the dry regions in Turkey and the Balkan peninsula, one suffered from the dry conditions and needed to be watered. The wild pears are, as is our common juniper, supposed to be drought tolerant. They both seem to be approaching their limits these days.

Somebody checking the cover of a new bed

All the new beds we laid seeds in need to be watered almost on a daily basis. Something that has been ongoing for several weeks by now. It means getting up at 6am and going out to water the beds and plants in need, as later on the sun will be shining from a spotless sky without mercy and the wind will take up speed over the day. When preparing the new bed for parsnip, beetroot and mangetout, we, again, unearthed bricks, roof tiles and beautiful broken floor or wall tiles, shards of glass panes and all sorts of rusty somethings.

Unearthed treasures

Oriental poppy

We have, well, I’d prefer to say: almost, lost one of our medlar trees to a hungry root vole. We realised the tree had stopped growing its leaves any further and took it out, finding there were not even traces of roots left. For whatever reason the vole managed to overcome the wire basket we had planted the tree into, to keep it safe from any root predators. We now try to nurture the medlar tree back to health in a pot placed in a shaded corner. Fingers crossed.

Young apples

Pumpkin

We are going for sweetcorn, broad beans, mangetouts and pumpkins again. And we are having a go at carrots, parsnip and beetroot this year around. It looks as if we were expecting a nice harvest of black and red currants and gooseberries. There is some hope for our first home grown apples and some pears. We might even have medlars again, the second tree has not been mauled by the root voles and there has been no disruptive late frost during bloom, but many bees and bumblebees busily pollinating.

Red gooseberries

Mangetout

The rhododendrons are in bloom now. We planted them last autumn. Even though they were exposed to the bitterly cold winds in March they are still going strong. But the continuing dry conditions are not quite to their liking.

Perennial flax

Chrysanthemum with rosechafer

The sunflowers are growing rapidly. The perennial flax and chrysanthemums are in bloom, as are the many varieties of sage. The lupines, that were lucky enough to not end up as dinner for the hare, are now showing off their whites and pinks and purples. And the poppies have opened their bespoke simple red flowers. There are so many more visitors then we had in our first summer. We have honey bees, solitary bees and bumblebees, all sorts of butterflies and moths, dragonflies, hover flies, black lice and lady birds, spiders and grasshoppers. The hornets have become regulars since last autumn, when they discovered that our mature ivy is a pretty good hunting ground. We do have beetles. Lots of, particularly cockchafers. This is no surprise knowing there are legions of their grubs in the soil of our garden.

The onions I put out last spring as a vague experiment to chase away root voles are now getting ready to push out their flowers. And, after all, we managed to give our bryonies their long time home. It is a raised bed of sorts and is secured against soil living rodents. The bryony instantly started to grow vigorously and is now in bloom already.

Bryony

As I write this, I have already spent over an hour with watering early in the morning. There are clouds in the sky but they do not carry the promise of rain. The swallows and house martins are feasting out there. The sparrows are chatting happily, they have discovered our huge compost heap only recently. And the wee blue tits, who readily moved in at the nest box we had put up in late winter, are bringing in eagerly caterpillars of all colours to feed their chirping young.

Scarlet lily beetle on imperial fritillary

Late Winter

Time is flying, even though winter has been clinging on for quite a while this time around. We have seen snow in February.

And even before the snow came there were birds coming to our feeders. They did not do so during the previous winter. But they seem to have developed some sort of liking for our young garden. We have great and blue tits visiting, a pair of wrens, a pair of chaffinches has started coming only recently. There is a robin, and blackbirds. And the cheeky magpies are clearing the crumbs off the ground. Even some crows come for the larger bits that dropped off the hanging feeders.

We did not cut the sunflowers in autumn, but left them for the birds to feed from instead.

Can you spot the onions? I was eager to find some winter onions to put in the beed . Not only did I have an early harvest in mind. But I’m still  trying to keep the root voles at a good distance. Some say the scent of onions and leeks is not to their liking. Others say the voles don’t really care.

The old oaks along the small street are utterly unfazed by the snow. They are beautiful throughout all seasons.

And right over there, in the northwesterly corner of our garden our rhododendrons wait for spring to come. Their buds are large and strong and we hope for a colourful April and May bringing out whites and deep purple and golden yellows.

One of the rhododendrons got some special decoration: a black nightshade chose to grow over the strong branches. It still carries plenty of its berries.

We have had a sparrow hawk visiting our patio. Casually sitting on the rim of one of the plant pots trying not to look to where the feeders for the little birds are. We have put up the nesting boxes regardless.

This is what the daffodils looked like in mid February. The cold has been following us far into March. Two periods with bitterly cold air from the east swept over the garden – one almost a week long the second one slightly shorter. I had wrapped up many a plant pot and some of the herbs. But the rosemary bushes still suffered and will need to be cut back. During a short slightly warmer spell in March we managed to plant a few ferns as companions for the rhododendrons.

Elsewhere people have put in a lot of effort to beautifully lay a hedge. We saw this along a road in Oxfordshire, some miles north of Burford, after staying on a few days following the Oxford Fine Press Book Fair in late March.

As I write this the sun is out again after a little bit of early spring rain. I have started digging out new beds for new flowers in our meadow. There are many lovely seeds that want to be given a space that suits them. There will be a wealth of flowers for bees and birds and butterflies – wind and weather permitting.

January full moon

 

 

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