Mecanical interlude. A compromise!

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Usually we like to get stuck in and do most jobs around the garden and house by hand. But sometimes the jobs are so big that we have to call in the heavies and let them do it for us. We had a digger and roller here for a couple of days, and they did more work than we could have done manually in at least four weeks. Sometimes you have to way up the positives and negatives.

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We have not done anything to our drive for the three years we have been here and it was now full of potholes and weeds. The digger scraped off the old top layer of gravel all along the drive and outside our porch. We saved all of this material to add to our paths through the garden, as a stabilising layer.

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It was then time to have a truck load of quarry dust delivered and dumped along the drive. Our friend with the trusty digger helped us distribute it evenly and then it was time for some fun. Most of us had a go on the roller, some doing a lot of work and some just trying it out with a big grin on our face. One example is the main authour of this blog who just rode the roller up and down the drive once… For the people who did get stuck in it worked really well for compacting the gravel and now we have a lovely drive without any potholes and quite an even surface.

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We have now finished our extension on the inside and time has come to add on the conservatory and connect the two roofs. We are adding a conservatory mainly as a way of further insulating the house and bringing all that lovely sunshine from the south into our home. It will also be a place to dry our washing, starting up seedlings in the spring and just sitting around with cups of tea and coffee, talking to friends.

The digger dug out a bit more of the bank behind the house and we will use all the stone that we have found in the garden to build a solid stone wall at the back and side of our conservatory. For the floor we will put down flag stones and leave areas with soil in between for planting right into the floor. A conservatory is probably not the right name for it as it will be more like a piece of the garden with a roof over it. We are planning to use polycarbonate for the roof as it is strong, lightweight and has good insulating properties. It is very exciting to think of all the possibilities this space will bring.

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As a first step we put down a small foundation for our main upright post, a branch that came of an ash-tree we had to pollard behind the house. The digger was again a great help lowering it down onto the round foundation.  It is great to be building again and to have a nice big project to get stuck into. There are more posts to put up, stone walls to be constructed and windows to move into position.  We never have time to get bored around here, and because of the digger and roller, we can get on with the fun bits now, skipping hours, days and weeks of shoveling gravel and dirt.

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Even more mushrooms, hopefully!

Following on from our last post, we wish to tell you about two more ways of growing mushrooms in the average garden.

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If you have a compost heap it is possible to set up a colony of Oyster mushrooms. We choose the yellow variety as it is more tolerant to cold and will be easy to spot even when small because of its bright colour. We have a few very big heaps in our woodland with mostly brushwood and weeds and we picked the north, shady side of one of them to start our colony.

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We put some old silage we were given from a neighbour on top of the heap and scattered on the mushroom spawn mixed with saw dust and a little bit of sugar. As this is a big heap we used 180 grams of spawn. You could probably use more like 100 grams on an average compost heap.  We forked in the mixture and added a thick layer of straw on top of the spawn before finishing off with another layer of silage. All mushrooms need a damp growing site so we watered the heap in. Now we are confident that the rain will do the rest of the watering for us, but if we get any dry spells, our stream is conveniently located close to the heap.

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We also wanted to try out a couple of slightly more difficult varieties and looked at the ideas in James Wong’s excellent book, Grow for Flavour, for growing Lions mane and Shiitake. These varieties both like a vertical surface to grow on and they like hard wood chips as a medium. We adapted Mr .Wong’s ideas slightly and started off with some hard plastic crates we were given from our local supermarket. Putting down a layer of cardboard in each box to contain the woodchips and started filling them by putting down slightly larger half rotted twigs from a pile in the garden. Then it was time for filling the gaps with hard wood chips to create a level surface about half way up in each box that the spawn mixture could be scattered across.  Again we added sawdust and a sprinkling of sugar to kick start the spawn into action.

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Shiitake spawn.

We filled the boxes to the top with wood chips and put on another layer of cardboard to insulate against the cold and create a dark, cosy environment for our mushrooms.

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Now the boxes are stacked up and wrapped in some plastic for the next couple of months and hopefully the mycelium will start to form, and our boxes will fruit for years to come. If for any reason our colonies will not take off, it is easy to order some more spawn later in spring and add to our different created environments. It might be a bit of a gamble, starting this project in January, but we do not have many frosts here and all of our colonies are well protected from the cold. Only time can now tell if we will succeed. Hopefully it will only be a few months until we can start harvesting our very own gourmet mushrooms.

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Looking forward and back.

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We have reached a new year full of possibilities and projects. Yesterday we were delighted to harvest a large crop of Oca, Oxalis Tuberosa, also called New Zeeland yams, a tuber we tried growing for the first time. It was planted in our garden last spring after being pre sprouted in pots in late March. We tried red, yellow and orange tubers but the yellow ones rotted in their pots early on so only the others got planted out. In the summer the plants produced lots of green leaves with a lemony taste. We are very happy with our trial and will save a few, to plant again this spring. In their native South America they are second only to potatoes in popularity.

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Planting in March.

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Growing in August.

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Harvest in January.

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On these short wintery days the sun is always welcome and we try to spend some time in the garden every day, clearing out old foliage and weeds from the beds. We are planning to cover the whole vegetable garden in cardboard boxes and barley straw to stop weeds taking hold in the spring. Hopefully this will rot down just enough in time for planting vegetables later in the year.  Our witch hazel tree is looking beautiful at the moment, with spidery fragrant flowers on bare branches. It is always a welcome sight along with the hellebore, Christmas rose.

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Still braving the elements.

It is time to sum up last month in the garden, the words very wet comes to mind.  It was difficult to find the motivation to get out there and work when the ground was soggy and the sky was grey. We kept busy inside and also took some time for rest and reflection. Sometime that is what is needed in order to gather strength and renewed motivation. We are feeling very optimistic now about the garden in the coming year. Some plants will be moved about or planted for the first time and there is much work to be done on clearing weeds like creeping buttercup. We actually like many plants normally considered weeds, like nettles for their phenomenal nutritional and wildlife value. But some have to be controlled in order not to take over ground from weaker plants.

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These are pictures of our circle at the end of December in the four directions of the compass. It is very green for this time of year, with the grass still growing. We are full of anticipation to see what the circle will look like later in the spring and summer as all our trees, shrubs and perennials will have another years worth of growth in them. If you wish to see how the circle develops over time you can take a look at the Elemental circle category on the blog, where all the monthly garden entries are collected.

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We wish all our readers a happy and healthy new year, full of pleasant surprises and time to be spent outside in our beautiful nature. There is always so much to look at and to be delighted by. We are going to roast some newly harvested Oca tubers with fresh garlic and olive oil now, to celebrate the beauty of January and give thanks to our garden where beautiful things happen all throughout the year.

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