As we approach Samhain – Halloween, and the midpoint of the latest lockdown or ‘extended half term’ as it’s sold to us, we’ve managed to get busy in the garden. Our apple crop this year was woeful, partly due to some odd frosts at bad times, and partly because half our apple trees were leaning over or were being colonised by grass and nettles. Some aren’t terribly big and we could literally heave them up and use stakes and rope to secure them; one or two needed a pull from our big tirfor winch. Once cleared and fixed they do look a lot happier, and they’ll get a good prune once the leaves are off. We also took a couple of the really damaged ones out to give the others a bit more elbow room.

With any luck, once the apple trees have had a prune, they’ll be more inclined to stay upright

Our other job was to sort out the compost. We have made many compost heaps over the years, all out of pallets, and they weren’t all in the best places – half of them were under the apple trees and needed moved. So we’ve built a veritable compost palace, inspired by Charles Dowding’s one at Homeacres, though ours is about half the size.


Four bays, with a roof.  I used stokboard for the back and sides, as its plastic and made from recycled silage wrap, and should last forever. It’s turned out rather fine. A gutter at the back catches the rain and directs it into a big tank, into which we put all the nettles and other things that cant go in the heap. It creates a foul smelling but rich liquid fertiliser that we’ll use in the garden.

That’s the old compost heaps there in front – some great compost to be used, we’ll just screen it through a sieve before it gets used

The garden is definitely happier without the compost bins at the end of the beds, it seems so much lighter. This year’s policy of admitting more light is definitely a good one.

Just a years growth from the dark woven line upwards there.

The next job will be to take the willow hedge down to the point where it is woven. I’m going to take all this season’s growth off and put a load of new whips in the ground to thicken the hedge up, and then next season we’ll just keep it down to waist height, as it cast so much shade this year.

Most of the weed cleared from the surface

The pond is benefitting from all this light too. I got in and cleared a lot of leaves from the shallower bits, and some of the duckweed that was blanketing the surface, being careful to avoid the edges where I know all the frogs are hiding. Hopefully over winter it will all settle down and recover, as its never been the same since the horse chestnut tree fell into it.

Some tidying up needed but at least its working now.

Another maintenance job thats been woefully overdue was the water pump. It ran dry, overheated, and melted the little one way valve that keeps water from flowing back out of it to the tanks. It’s happened before and is definitely a weak spot in these cheap IBO pumps. The answer was to pull the damaged valve out completely, and ffit a brass one way valve in the line of the pipe coming into the pump. The inside of the pump impeller got a much needed clean too, and it’s working away happily once more.

The ram pump had also packed up, so it also got hauled out of the ditch, and it turns out that one of the brass flap valves had worn so badly it was leaking. A new one should sort that out, and they aren’t expensive. Mike at Carraig Dulra had warned me that they tend to get through valves, and we’ve had a couple of years out of that one, but I’ll have to come up with a way to refurbish them.

Lovely autumn light through the sycamore tree

It’s satisfying to get on top of all these bits and pieces – they niggle at me, usually in the small hours of the night, so having them out of the way is a relief. I’ve got to bend my mind to the roundhouse, which needs all the willow emptying out so that I can get in to put the gravel floor down.

Now more than ever, it feels like we’re really preparing not just for the winter ahead, but for all the other madness that is happening. The ongoing Covid pandemic, the now inevitable no-deal Brexit, with all its seemingly unintended consequences, such as not being able to ship seeds to Northern Ireland from GB or Ireland, the messy American elections, and of course, rumbling up behind them all like the tsunami wave that everyone has forgotten about, the mixture of environmental disasters that will dwarf them all. Being ready for any of it seems a tall order, but we’re doing our best.