Thursday, 25 March 2010

The polytunnel

I love my polytunnel, which is obvious from some previous postings. It creates such a good sheltered environment for growing tender plants and extending the growing season for many other plants and vegetables.

It is a reasonable sized tunnel (21 x 32 ft), quite wide and squat, which means it is well ventilated. It was also, purposely, situated near to the house - in alignment with my favourite motto
'The Gardener's Shadow Is the Best Fertilizer'. That holds true for me, the closer it is to the house, the easier it is for me to see it and thus tend to it. It is also very handy on those rainy days for a quick run out to grab vegetables for the dinner.

Unfortunately, I have been informed by the planning department that it is an unauthorized development and due to it's size and location they will not consider allowing us to retain it.

In order for us to get our planning permission, for retention of the house, approved we must remove it and provide them with photographic evidence that it has been removed.

Needless to say, I am really upset about this. I understand that not everyone shares my fondness for polytunnels but this one is doing no harm. It has never been objected about in any of our planning applications. We are the only people who see it from their house and it is not spoiling a view. In fact, once constructed, the garage will block the view of the tunnel from the road.

I have even put planters outside to soften the current view of it.

I had hoped that the tunnel would be a great example of what people can do to grow their own food, at home, under cover. It has been this for me.

We put it up last May and I have loved every minute of time I have spent in it (especially on cold or windy days). It created such a special environment, so suitable for growing crops really well. It was very beneficial for insects - always being full of bumblebees - and was quite useful for drying herbs - and clothes.

So, rather than crying about the loss of it (which I feel very keenly) I will take this opportunity to remember the good times we've had over the past year.

Here's a reminder.

Here myself and Sam undertook the mammoth task of erecting it ourselves - not recommended. The bigger the team the better the end result - but we did a fine job ....

... as here it is, freshly up, with doors - enticing me to get planting. Sam's work is now done - so he's off for a tea break ....

... while I bask in the sunshine, wondering quite where to put all those plants.

By now, the beds are prepared and the first plants are in. This end looks south to the field.

This end faces the road.

Here was our first pea flower. It was a very exciting moment - even if the picture isn't that spectacular.

Now things are growing well. The grass like leaves are sweetcorn and nearer are the early peas.

Here is the corn a bit later on.

A patch of serenity.

The first cauliflower (not always grown in tunnels, but last year the tunnel was my garden as I didn't have time to prepare any more land). They came up a treat .. after pretending they were just going to be huge leaves and no head.

In the summer, planted a border with sunflowers, peas, beans, squashes etc along the east facing side of the tunnel. We have that view from the kitchen.

Here is one of the winter squashes. I was VERY enthusiastic about squashes and I paid the price, as the huge leaves tried to take over the whole tunnel. They grew well outside too.

Here we are mid summer. Friends were calling it the jungle at this stage :>)
We're looking south, to the rest of the field.

Still looking south.

Ah, the sunflowers. They were spectacular. We had Russian Mammoth yellow ones too, that went right to the top of the tunnel. They were fabulous (and the seeds tasted great too). The grassy fronds in the background are the sweetcorn.

More jungle.

A rare jungle beast finds time for a nap. (Technically the cats aren't allowed in the tunnel, in case they scratch the plastic, but they have a habit of forgetting that).

Some flowers, to attract the attention insect pollinators and gardeners.

A monster 'Blue Banana' Squash. We still have two left in storage - at the end of March! They lasted really well, but they are hard to get into. Best to bake them whole.

Finally, a couple of pictures I took last weekend. The tunnel is fairly empty right now, apart from some overwintered salads, kale and carrots - and the goji berries, blueberry, strawberries, parsley and onions. I'm not sure how they'll do when their shelter is gone.
It would be worse if we had to take it down later in the season.

Here's the spinach I planted last September. Very tasty.

I'm not sure how I'll manage without my tunnel garden this year. I understand that rules are rules, but I am concerned when the results can serve to hinder people from trying to 'do their bit' to grow their own and utilize their environment to the full.

We plan to take down the tunnel at 11am on Saturday this week, Saturday 27th of March (unless we have a sudden change of regulations, Divine Intervention or some form of miracle - well, a girl can still hope). If anybody fancies giving us a hand or sending us some good wishes - to soften the blow - we are most appreciative.

I don't know what the next step is. I can't think that far ahead yet.

At least I have some fond memories to look back on.

I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


We were down on site last weekend and had great weather. I was amazed to see some bumblebees out and about and it got me thinking. What do they feed on at this time of year?

There wasn't much in bloom that I could see.

I did some research and it has reminded me to plant some more bee friendly plants, especially for spring time. It seems that a lot of the ornamental bedding plants, e.g. big pansies just aren't as suitable for them as our natives e.g. wild violas (apparently they can balance on a small viola flower but not a blowsy pansy!)

Nearby I could see some wild primroses ..
and some lesser celandine ..

It doesn't seem much to keep them going.

Next year I'll try to have more variety for them - as they were a wonderful help in the polytunnel all summer - doing great work pollinating my crops.

So, I've looked back at some old photo's to see what else might help some bumblebees in the spring.

Narcissi are a good start .

Apple blossom will help later on.

Bluebells, of course, are a good native spring highlight.


Flowering currants are also on the 'approved' list.

There are others too. I've been searching out other flowers / wildflowers for damp soil (which is what we have) that flower early and have come up with Marsh Marigold (flowers March -May) for beside the pond, maybe Cowslips (flowers April - May), Red Campion (flowers April - June), Lady's Smock (flowering April - June) and Sweet Violet (April flowering).

Right now, there are no Marsh Marigolds by the pond - but there is some frogspawn in it.

Of course, I didn't while away the whole weekend idly watching bumblebees (and the one butterfly!) but I took the opportunity to do some maintenance on the reedbed - weeding and clearing the autumn leaves away. Here it is freshly weeded.

Here is one of the yellow iris coming into life.

Now, it's time to get back to that little project at my Aunt's house!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A new project

Well, the bad news is that it looks like we'll be waiting another 6 - 8 weeks before we will know if our planning issues are resolved and can see when we'll be able to get back to the build.

As the main growing season is fast approaching the thought of not being able to get sowing and growing is driving me up the wall.

So, for some distraction that gets me out into the garden - and gives the chickens some entertainment - I'm 'renovating' some borders for my aunt. She does like things wild, but even she admits that things have got a bit out of hand. Time for me to step in and make some sense out of the chaos.

Here is the longest border. The big shrub is a St. John's Wort - but it's days are numbered .. as she isn't keen on yellow flowers and it is getting a bit too big. The grass has spilled out over the border onto the drive and needs some 'tlc'.

Opposite the previous border is the front of the house, which gets great sun and is quite sheltered. Again the grass has encroached onto the drive and needs taming. There are also lots of brambles lurking and a few ash and sycamore saplings trying to assert themselves.

Here, below the front door there are a couple of lovely old scented roses - maybe dog rose and there was once a rosemary. A lot was cut back a couple of weeks ago.

Here, above the front door, I actually 'renovated' this bed in 2007 and had some strawberries and garlic in it that summer, but nature has reclaimed it since then. It gets the best sun, so I'll raise the border, put in some grit for drainage and try some lavender, rosemary and mediterranean herbs here I think.

To show I'm not all mouth, here were are after an hour and a half of 'weeding'. Hmm, it may take a while. Didn't do any today as it's been quite rainy (about time too, haven't had rain for weeks now) but will resume next week. Watch this space for future progress.

Of course, I have a few wee things growing inside - these saladlings need transplanting. I'm hardening them off and will put them in planters outside. I have some other things coming along also - will take pics for the next blog.

Hopefully, such distractions will tide me over and help me stay sane over the next few weeks. Fingers and toes are crossed that we can actually get back to the build before the summer comes.

As we're not on site much I've resigned myself to the fact that the kitchen garden is on hold until we're building again. Ditto the tunnel planting. I have to keep the doors closed (in case of high winds) when we aren't there and I think it's unfair to start anything off in case we get some more sunny weather and they all fry. So, patience is a virtue that I'd better just keep cultivating (but I'd rather be cultivating my veg!)

As I keep reminding myself, we'll have YEARS where I can play with my vegetables all year round and have fun creating and maintaining my garden.

For now, I might go sow a few more seeds - just in case we get back soon.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

In need of motivation?

It seems like a lifetime ago when I did this 'mock up' picture (in summer 2008) of what our house would look like in the field once completed. The view is from the stream, looking up to the road.

A lot has happened since then. We got our permission in 2008, started building in 2009 (groundworks, shell up and some internal work) before having to stop building last October because of a planning error (that was made before we even owned the land).

We're still waiting for planning permission to be approved before we can start building again.

To be honest, it has been very frustrating. We've been stopped for over 5 months now and we've lost a lot of time - and morale - while we've been waiting. Our schedule is completely out the window and it all feels a bit chaotic. I'm finding myself in a rare situation of lacking drive and enthusiasm. It seems like I'm in need of some motivation.

We never expected a self build to be easy, but we couldn't have foreseen such complications and the resulting stress. There is nothing as hard as looking at work to be done and not being able to actually tend to it, not being able to progress.

We haven't been on site too much, because of the cold weather - and not being able to 'do' anything - and I've missed the place.

Word on the grapevine is that we'll be able to resume building very shortly. Fingers are crossed.

Although it all seems a bit daunting right now, it's not all bad. I know we'll have a great house at the end of it all and we have great neighbors and there are lots of friendly people nearby. That means a lot.

We have a few lovely sunny days and a bit of sunshine makes me think of gardening (actually I think of gardening all the time anyway, but the sun makes my fingers itch to get planting).

I have some broad beans in modules, waiting to get a permanent home when things warm up just a little more.

I did have some sweet peas I started last Autumn, but the cold winter was a bit much for them (see below). I'll start a new batch in a while.

The chickens and ducks are moulting a bit. I feel sorry for them, as it's still frosty and a bit cold out, but they seem to be in good form and have laid throughout the winter.

Hopefully, I'll have some good news to report soon about the build and I'll also be able to get started on the 'kitchen garden'. Watch this space.

If, you're itching to start growing veg in the garden yourselves, or fancy having a small holding and are in need of some advice or inspiration please check out the Sallygardens Smallholding. It's run by my friend Rebecca Allen, here in lovely Leitrim and she has some great e-booklets on growing veg, raising animals - and making wine :-) They are well worth a look, and there's a great forum too.