Monday, May 17, 2010

Busy being lazy

We’re beginning to realise just how time consuming a new house and new garden can become. The recent good weather we’re having here means that we can get out and do lots in the garden. The late run in the evenings is particularly welcome, even just to sit out with a glass of wine and enjoy what we have. Of course, such lazing around doesn’t get a blog written; something we’ve rather neglected over the last week or two. Also, much of what we’ve written seems to be rather obsessed on our increasingly cursed 48 square-foot bean bed, with little attention given to the remaining acre or so.

One area we’ve been particularly lackadaisical has been salads – it’s May and we’re still not cropping our own leaves! The salad bed has, rather shame-facedly, only now been sown with lettuce, rocket, radishes, scallions (spring onions) and more lettuce, with a row of Perpetual Spinach (on the right-hand side) planted out from the seed sown in the greenhouse. The bed itself is a wonderful old wooden washtub. Yes, we know it’s a real piece of craftsmanship (you should see the dovetail joints up close) and that our use of it is hardly befitting, but what else do you use a six-foot by three-foot wooden washtub for these days? On sowing the seed, however, we realised that not only had we not bothered sowing it earlier, but also that the salad seed tin was rather bare. An order has been dispatched to The Organic Centre to remedy this.

The other area that has been a little neglected has been the herbs. In truth, we inherited several mighty rosemary shrubs with the garden, and have also discovered some chives and mint. We were also able to take some pots of Oregano and Sage with us from the old house, so we’ve not been totally without. So, all-in-all, we didn’t need to do anything much with the herbs, hence the neglect. We did sow some Basil in March, but it spectacularly failed to do anything at all. Some more Basil has therefore been sown to remedy the situation, along with Coriander and Parsley.

Finally, a quick look in the greenhouse reveals that the tomatoes are doing well, and that the Brussels Sprouts need pricked out. Sadly, this serves as a reminder that we need to get the brassica bed dug and read for these plants (and the poor cabbages) soon – another obsession for May?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cameras, companions and competitions

Camera problems, rather than weather, work, family or the multitude of other excuses we usually utilise to explain our lack of progress has been the reason for the lack of recent news. Fortunately, while camera problems stop the work being reported, the work itself can continue apace.

The pea and bean bed, where digging was completed last month, has received a few bagfuls of compost from the old compost heap, is largely complete and mostly planted with peas and beans (we realise that our naming is not hugely imaginative when it comes to the beds, but it does help us remember what’s going on!). We have a bit of room left for a row of late peas, a couple of rows of runner beans and, if space and germinating seeds permit, a row of French beans at the (far) end.

At each end of the bed we’ve also added an extra, small raised bed (the technical term for the shape is apparently trapezoidal – which not only looks good, but will give a bit of extra room for manoeuvring the wheelbarrow). We had these at one end of the plots in the previous garden. The idea of these was, initially, to end off the veg beds in an aesthetically-pleasing manner, and sow some nice flowers to brighten up the plot. Here, we’re more thinking of using these beds for companion planting (although most of these “companion” plants will be flowers to attract beneficial insects). One of these beds (the one at the far end) has been sown with nasturtiums – reputedly good for distracting slugs as well as providing some very attractive and tasty (peppery) flowers for salads and the seeds can be pickled as capers, or are easily saved for sowing again next year. The near bed (next the beans) has been sown with a mixtures of Summer Savoury (very few seeds left, so don’t know if it will germinate; said to deter bean beetle amongst other things), Calendula Marigolds (again, old seed, but good for hoverflies) and Hyssop (a herb with blue flowers that attracts bees).

Incidentally, the bright green plastic thingies in the bed are beer traps for slugs. Although planting out big plants reduces the effects of slugs on the beans and peas, the traps still get rid of a few of these unwelcome guests, although we also do after-dark slug hunts (which are probably the most effective control method of all).

The experiment to see which sowing vessels (window boxes, peat pots or toilet-roll tubes) are the best for the peas have shown that the window boxes are a clear winner (the two rows on the right). Sadly, however, they may be victims of their own success. The lateness of being planted out has meant that quite a few of these bigger plants got a bit damaged when being transplanted (“pricked out” seems to lack something given the size of the plants). As a result, second place (but possible eventual winner) goes to the peat pots (second row from left), with the toilet roll tubes last, with the smallest plants. The final verdict then: if you’re leaving your peas in the greenhouse for several weeks longer than is good for them, just sow them several weeks later, allowing you to get their bed prepared in time!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

All work and not much play

It is a curse of good weather that you just never seem to have enough time for everything, which often leads to not having enough time for anything. This is perhaps exacerbated more so than normal in April when the garden, and the veg plot in particular, needs a lot of attention, yet the evenings just aren’t quite long enough yet. That is not to say, of course, that we aren’t enjoying our time. We had a wonderful visit to the self-sufficiency show in Belvedere – a bit smaller than expected perhaps, but a wonderful array of experts, speakers and workshops against the stunning backdrop of the grounds to enjoy.

With the weekend lost to such and similar extravagances, it fell to the evenings to get some bits and pieces done in the garden. First up we took some steps to address our compost problem with the purchase of a Lidl compost bin. The old compost heap still hasn’t been fully dismantled and moved yet – a job we’re planning for the coming weekend. However, we located this small bin next the house, so it should be handy for the kitchen scraps. The other bins will probably be located a bit further away out of sight (and smell). The old compost heap did donate a couple of bags of worm-laden material to get this new one going.

The old compost heap also donated a further two bags of lovely, well-rotted compost for the bean bed. After settling in on the bed for a couple of days, this was forked into the top few inches of the soil there, and the first planting of the year (and (small fanfare please), indeed, the garden) were made in the shape of the Broad Beans, which had pretty much outgrown the greenhouse, let alone the toilet paper tubes they’ve been living in for the past couple of months. They're being kept under cover to harden off for the next few days (we had a bit of a frost here the last couple of nights), but are probably strong enough to survive without protection after the weekend (when they'll have to be staked). The peas will be following soon, possibly this weekend (or possibly not, depending upon how we get on with the old compost heap). Let’s just hope that that accursed good weather lasts a little bit longer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In with the old; in with the new.

There's no two ways about it, the greenhouse is now full. We've tried to moderate our sowing as much as we can, but there simply is no room left at all. The Broad Beans should have been planted out weeks ago, and similarly with the peas. At least their bed is now dug, and the cover means that they can harden-off once they've been planted out. True, we still have to get the bed finally prepared, but that's an evenings work, and the planting out shouldn't take much longer. Of more immediate concern now are the Summer Cabbages. These should be in the cold frame hardening off. The cold frame is here, but we've yet to site it (a matter of some debate at the present time), and put down a bed of sand for the plants to sit on. After that's sorted out, there's just the small matter of building a frame for their deep, raised bed (or should that be raised, deep bed?), double digging it and finding some more compost to get some organic matter into it for the cabbages and other brassicas to feed on while they grow. In reality, we're going to have to feed the brassicas over the summer to get anything like a decent crop - the soil is just too poor and organic matter just too scarce.

The reason the greenhouse is full is due to us catching up with our sowing. In lieu of new seed arriving, we chucked a good chunk of our old seed into trays and pots to see what will happen. These sowings included Turnip (Tipperary), Brussels Sprout (Balbriggan), Calabrese (Sprouting Broccoli), Spinach (America), Pea (Robinson), Runner Beans (Enorma and White Emergo), a dwarf French Bean (Burpees Stringless) and three Courgettes (All Green Bush, Black Beauty and Golden Dawn III F1).

Having failed with our old tomato seed last month, we couldn't resist sowing some of the new arrivals in the form of Brandywine, Gardener's Delight and Harbinger - a bit late for this year perhaps (recommended sowing time for them is January to March), but what the hell - may as well give them a go. Of course, just as the new seed arrived, the old seed we had sown a few weeks back, that had steadfastly refused to do anything, suddenly germinated. Not a complaint really - it's nice to know that the Falstaff Brussels Sprouts (the reddish ones in the foreground)and Perpetual Spinach Leaf Beet (the weedy ones in the back tray) will be on the menu later in the year. Of course, it would also be nice to know that they will have a bed to be planted in when the time comes - they will, they will, they must, they must...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bean there, dug that!

The good weather has meant a busy time for us at home and work, and the blog has fallen behind a little. Finally, finally managed to finish off digging the first raised veg bed. No time to rest on our laurels though. This will be our bed for peas and beans, which are currently out-growing the greenhouse! However, the bed is still very low in organic matter, so we’re going to raid out old compost heap during the week to try and get a few bags of that precious black gold onto the surface of the bed. If all goes well, we hope to be planting it up next week.

The cover is a (very slightly) modified one from Lidl. Our old veg beds were the same size as this one – the size dictated by the old garden. Imagine our delight to discover that not only did these greenhouses fit perfectly width-wise (four feet) when we originally got one, but also that two of them were exactly the same length (twelve feet). Although nothing is planted in the bed yet, the cover is on to try and warm up the soil. Underneath, it is being regularly watered and part of it is covered in cardboard to try to get the worms really going! Not sure if that will work, but we’re desperate to try anything that may speed up the readiness of this bed.

They say the simplest things in life are often the best and that one can get most joy from simple pleasures. The seed ordered from Brown Envelope Seeds arrived last week (only taking a couple of days to arrive). There is always excitement at the arrival of new seed: the prospect of it growing and anticipation of eating it. Certainly the packets look very nice – photos of the plants inside and hints, tips and information on how to grow them. The first of these will be sown soon and we’ll let you know how we get on.

Finally, just to remind everyone about the Self-sufficiency weekend at Belvedere House and Gardens this weekend (17th – 18th April). We haven’t been before but are thoroughly looking forward to it. Not sure which day we’ll go, and yes, we are tempted to go on both by the look of the programme. We’ll let you know how we get on.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A long and (mostly) lost weekend

Driving winds, rain and waterlogged soil rather curbed our ability to do much outside over the long Easter weekend. The lack of a completed bed is starting to become a bit of a worry for the peas and, especially, the broad beans, but what can you do about the weather except complain? Better weather is forecast for later this week, and one good evening should see the first bed dug and levelled. After this, it’ll be a fire-fighting action to get as much organic compost incorporated into the top few inches of the soil before we finally get something planted out.

Fortunately, the summer cabbages sown at the end of February have been a bit slower to grow than the beans, and were only ready for pricking out this weekend. Interestingly, the seeds sown together in the tray (right of picture) performed substantially better than those in the modules (on the left). This, coupled with the struggle in getting the seedlings out of the modules, suggests that trays will be the way to go for the rest of this season’s brassicas. A total of 48 cabbage seedlings were potted up (in three-inch pots, planted up to the level of their bottom leaves - thanks for the advice Peggy (

Somewhat disheartened by the poor (i.e. nil) germination of some of the seeds sown so far (which is basically due to the fact that they have been kicking around in the seed box for quite some time and are well out of date), purchasing some new seeds seemed to be required (and the prospect of choosing varieties from the various catalogues is always enjoyable with the rain hammering on the window). We plumped for Brown Envelope Seeds ( which have a nice-looking catalogue of seeds, and are very easy to order from. A couple of tomato varieties in addition to some broccoli, kale and spinach to fill the brassica bed and a runner bean which just looked lovely filled out the order, and we look forward to seeing how these do. In the meantime, we’ll probably bust ourselves over the next few days with sowing the remaining seed just to see how they do (if they do anything at all!) and trying to get that last two-feet of bed dug.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Signs of spring?

With a very unusual inch-plus of snow falling during the week, coupled with a fair bit of rain (which isn’t particularly unusual), we’ve pretty much kept out of the garden this week. It’s too wet to dig, although we could (and probably should) have sown some more seed – maybe the long weekend will provide more opportunities. However, the break in the work has allowed us to catch up a bit with the garden - strolling around with a cup of tea to see what's around.

The first welcome sight was the frog spawn in the pond. We’re delighted that there is already something of a pond here, and that the frogs already know where it is. Despite worries that the frogs had struggled to endure the very cold winter (which were reinforced by the lack of frog spawn until 11 March) we were relieved when the tally of clumps rose to around 18, and look forward to the first tadpoles later this month.

The first flowers of the year – some daffodils appearing through the now rather thick grass in the “orchard” are also a happy sight. We can only presume there are no snowdrops: despite it being an apparently good year everywhere else, none were on show here. This will have to be remedied next year – flowers are always a welcome sight after winter and early bulbs, such as snowdrops, daffs and crocuses always bring on the cheer of a spring and summer not too far away.

With such a cold start to the year, and a busy few weeks for us getting settled in, we’ve somewhat taken our eye off the other residents that already lived here. However, a Fallow Deer stag strolling through the garden one evening was a magical experience (somewhat tempered by the potential impact on the veg plot), and there are signs that a Pine Marten at the very least passes through. Many of the resident birds, including Starling, Pied Wagtail, Blackbird, Robin and Blue and Great Tit look like they are thinking about nesting somewhere around and the first summer visitor of the year, a Chiffchaff, was singing last weekend. Typically, recording for the breeding season for the Bird Atlas ( only started yesterday, so hopefully Mr. Chiffchaff will lift our spirits again this weekend. Perhaps then, despite the weather suggesting otherwise, spring is here for some of us.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The earth unearthed (at last!)

Finally managed to turn over a sod in the veg plot and get a first look at what lies beneath. The verdict: it could be better, but it could be worse. The soil itself appears to be a slightly clayey loam (which is okay, although it does still need its pH tested) and digging it is not too much of a back-breaker (our previous veg plot was not so much dug as quarried). The downside is that the nice black organic layer of soil is barely six inches deep, below which is the lovely, reddish subsoil in the photos. The original plan was to double-dig the whole thing, incorporating extra organic matter during this. We are sticking to this plan, digging a trench about nine inches deep, forking over the nine inches below that, before filling the trench back up. However, we clearly now need a lot more organic matter than originally anticipated. Sadly, this wasn’t to hand this weekend, so will now be added as layers of mulch to the surface and forked in as we go. This first bed is for peas and beans, which will probably need planted out in about three to four weeks hopefully giving us time to get the organic matter in there. The dearth of deeper nutrients also means that additional fertilisers may be required during the growing season. The second bed that we’re putting in this year will be for brassicas, and hopefully won’t be required until May, giving us a bit more time to prepare the soil.

The beds themselves measure twelve feet by four feet (internally) and the wooden frame (boards measuring nine inches by inch-and-a-half) will remain in place until they rots away. The whole veg plot is also on a bit of a slope (a drop of about six inches across the bed we’re busy working on), so the beds will likely be slightly “terraced” on the slope. Again, not too worried about this, although we hope that the top of the veg plot (the bit with the two corner frame sections in the photo) will be flat enough for a poly-tunnel.

Apart from laying out some of the beds in the veg garden, and starting to dig the first bed, we managed to sow some Carrots (Amsterdam Forcing in a big pot) for salads, some leaf beet (perpetual spinach) and the first Brussels sprout (Falstaff). All this seed was quite old, and needed using up, so it is going to be a bit of a lottery to see if anything appears. We also began clearing off the old weeds and growth from the raised beds out front. A few interesting-looking plants starting to emerge from amongst the shrubs, so will exciting to see what appears as the summer progresses – another lottery!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

That mad month of March

Wow…that was a quick month! Holidays, finally getting moved in and a few other distractions largely kept us out of the garden, so not too much done. In fairness, the very cold weather in late February and into early March, when the ground was still frozen, did limit what we could do, so not feeling too guilty about it.

An extravagance saw us purchase a Lidl walk-in greenhouse. The small Aldi one was a real success, but filled up very quickly, so we decided that we could make use of more space. Fortunately, the Aldi one fits perfectly inside the Lidl one, so can be used as extra staging for the time being, and moved back out as a separate greenhouse again if more room is needed.

The seeds sown last month all appear to be doing very well, with the exception of both tomatoes, which completely failed to germinate. Not sure why – perhaps conditions weren’t great with the cold weather, although the seed used wasn’t particularly new. The only new sowings since the last post is the first herbs (Basil) of the summer – a tray on the windowsill and another in the greenhouse.

The peat pots have, sadly, out-performed the toilet roll tubes, with 100% success compared to just 79%. Also, the growth in the peat-pots was substantially better than in the toilet rolls. However, we only had room for 18 peat pots compared to 24 bog-rolls, so the 19 peas in those actually outnumber those in the peat pots, so perhaps something of a hollow victory?

Next jobs, now that the ground is thawing out, is to get a bed dug for the peas and beans (something of a priority now judging by the size of the seedlings in the greenhouse), sow some more tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and herbs, get the salad bed started and sort out a compost heap. Regarding compost, is a veritable bible for all home composters – we’ll be trying some of the ideas there this summer in our search for perfect compost!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Final February sowings

A bit of a lack of windowsill space, compounded by the complete lack of any greenhouse or even porch prompted us to invest in an Aldi 4-tier greenhouse (for the princely sum of €17.99). Putting the thing together was no problem at all, and we're pleasantly surprised by how sturdy the finished article was. Our main concern was that it may topple over in any wind so, despite the rather short tent-peg affair at the base, we also chucked in a couple of breeze blocks to lower the things centre of gravity as well. Inspired by the completed "greenhouse", a slightly larger walk model caught our eye in Woodies. At €40 its still not going to break the bank, and there appears to be enough room in it for at least a couple of gro-bags for some late-summer tomatoes. We'll give it a couple of weeks to see how the 4-tier one gets on before we take the plunge.

Of course, the new greenhouse needed to be filled, encouraging us to pretty much finish off out early-season sowings. Sowing this week included Summer Cabbage "Derby Day" and two tomatoes: an Italian plum tomato (Roma VF) and a tumbling cherry variety (Gartenperle). For the Pea "Meteor" we decided to compare the bog-roll pots (see previous entry) against some peat pots we found lying around. Firstly, the peat pots appeared to be far more fragile, with three not making it out the potting shed (no such fatalities for the cardboard tubes). Also, they took up a bit more room (only 16 fitted onto the tray compared to 18 for the bog-roll). We'll have to see how the rest of the season goes. We would have liked to try out newspaper pots as well (we got a newspaper-pot maker for Christmas), and probably will, but the pot maker hasn't been moved to the new house yet (and is probably still sitting in its box somewhere...).

Typically, after the previous posting, we managed to find a host of new and interesting websites to help budding gardeners. has a load of blogs covering various aspects of gardening and growing-your own, with lots of useful hints and tips so well worth a perusal. contains lots of threads of advice, and offers of help if the info you're after isn't there. Finally, blotanical ( hosts a load of garden blogs (including this one if I managed to register it correctly) - another great resource for those long evenings.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A slow start

Due to some more pressing needs associated with moving house, such as painting, decorating, etc., we've not been out in the garden very much at all this week. That is, however, not to say we've not been busy. With this fresh start, we're trying to do it properly, which means planning, seeking out help and advice and, something quite alien to us, not rushing headlong into disaster. In this day and age, the internet is loaded with lots of help and advice. Although specific Irish sites are perhaps fewer than those in the UK, what they lack in quantity certainly seems adequately compensated for in quality.

First up is the Irish Gardener's Forum ( - a fantastic resource for Irish gardeners with lots of advice and helpful folks to answer queries and problems. We hope to be able to help and contribute to the forum, although its probably more likely that we'll be looking for help.

Another interesting looking site is the GIY (Grow It Yourself) Ireland ( The aim of GIY Ireland is to bring gardeners together to help each other. No group in Offaly yet, but watch this (or perhaps that) space.

If we're talking about advice, the organic centre ( is always worth a look, particularly for their mouth-watering selection of courses and, of course, their excellent seed catalogue. Another good source of organic seed is the Irish Seed Savers (, a charity dedicated to preserving local strains and varieties of vegetables (an often forgotten part of our biodiversity). Membership is well worth considering at €50 (the price of an Indian take-away and bottle of wine for two!) for which you get five free packets of vegetable seed and three varieties of seed potato. ISSA also have an excellent selection of fruit trees for purchase.

For wild flower meadows (which we may have a go at establishing this year), two possible sources look promising: Fruit Hill Farm (, who also sell other gardening equipment, including organic slug pellets, and Design by Nature (, who have some good-looking advice on what and how to create a wildflower meadow. All very tempting, but perhaps the wildflower meadow must take its place in the queue (as must the hens, which we haven't even mentioned yet...)

Finally, and not necessarily of immediate interest, but certainly one for the diary, is the self sufficiency weekend at Belvedere House near Mullingar ( on 17th and 18th April.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ready, Steady, SOW!

We know, we should have started sowing in the Autumn or, at the very least, over the Christmas holidays, but we didn't. We started this weekend. We also started with our favourite (possibly becasue its also usually our most successful) crop. Broad Beans. We put in two varieties this year - twenty Superaquadulce and thirty Supersimonia (because that's what we had left over from last year).

We have always sown our Broad Beans indoors - we had to this year since we haven't dug any of the garden yet - but in previous years its usually been too wet to think of sowing outside at this time of year. Last year (or, to be exact, November 2008), we did an autumn sowing. This is very handy to get an early crop, but should still be followed up with at least one spring sowing to extend the season.

Broad Bean seedlings develop fairly long roots, so if sowing indoors, a deep pot is required. Being mean (or thrifty? Financially cautious perhaps?) we don't bother with proper long pots but use old cardboard tubes instead (can't remember where we got this idea, but its a cracker). Toilet-roll tubes are favourite (everyone has these don't they?), but cutting a kitchen-roll tube in half works just as well (still don't see why you can't just use bog-roll though). Pack the bottom half of the tube firmly with compost, on a hard, flat surface; fill the rest of tube up; poke the broad bean in about an inch; top with some more soil and place in a tray. Keep the trays well watered (the water will soak up the tube and compost from below). Its probably not too good an idea to fiddle with the pots too much, lest the cardboard decides to fall to bits. When it comes to planting out (which we'll probably blog at the time), the whole thing (plant, compost and pot) goes into the bed, meaning the roots don't get disturbed while the pot decomposes to nothing in the soil.

Sorry to say that the compost used for the Broad Beans this year came from a bag via a garden centre, organic and peat free of course but not our own, home-made compost. Also we can never remember which way up the beans go when being sown. As a result, we tend to just push them in to the pots however they come to hand, so many may be upside-down or sideways. Can someone out there can advise on the orientation of sowing these seeds (please?). In our ignorance, and because we generally get good germination rates, we are of the opinion that it doesn't matter that much! Better news is that the beans themselves came from the The Organic Centre in Co. Leitrim, from whom we still need to order the rest of the vegetable seeds for the year...

Take a deep breath...

...and off we go... blog some of the stories about our new garden in Co. Offaly, Ireland.

"The Orchard"
At the very least we will try to grow our own, organic, vegetables and fruit, and try to make the most out of them (jams, chutneys, preserves and perhaps even some booze). We may invest in a few new faces as well - we hope some hens will join us, and bees and pigs have been talked about. We're not expecting to become fully self-sufficient (nor are we going to try), but we hope to produce some of our own food in as environmentally responsible a way as possible. Whatever else, we hope it will make us healthier and happier.

"The Meadow"
We're not totally new to this: we've been growing our own organic veg and fruit for a few years now, albeit on a small scale. We have backgrounds in the environmental and food sectors, and we both grew up on farms. However, that's pretty much it. We'll make mistakes, face disappointments, argue, curse and possibly even swear. We may throw things and perhaps shout abuse at inanimate objects. For us, we hope this blog will force us to reflect on what we're doing, learn from our mistakes, and look back and laugh. Any suggestions or comments on what we’re doing would, or course, be welcome.

"Out Front"

Our new plot is just over one acre. “Out front” is a series of hard landscaped beds filled with ornamental shrubs – not necessarily our cup of tea, but we haven’t figured out what to do with them yet. Most of the rest of the garden is rough, rank and, what appears to be rather damp, grassland. This is (kind of) split into three areas: the orchard (which has the septic tank in the middle and where we may plant some fruit trees), the meadow (which faces south and where we will put in our raised veg beds, possibly a poly-tunnel and keep a bit of a lawn, and where the well for the house is situated) and the piggery (which is parallel to the meadow, surrounded by trees and also where we haven’t decided what to do yet; a piggery has been suggested, hence this working title). The house itself is surrounded by some raised beds full of herbs, which we’ll keep, and decking, where we’ll have lots of pots of stuff for the time being.

"The Piggery"
Our plan for 2010 is to put in two raised veg beds (which we’ll double dig); one for beans and peas, the other for brassicas. We’re going to try to get the lawn under some sort of control (not something we’ve had any success with in the past, so wish us luck) and possibly plant some apple trees. Hens are a definite possibility depending upon how things go in the spring. We'll start small – an ark with perhaps four birds – but this will be a fairly big adventure for us both: only one of us has ever kept hens before, and that was when they were six years old! A poly-tunnel may appear towards the end of the year depending upon time and finances. Most of the gardening year, however, is probably going to be taken up with tidying up, clearing stuff away and making the garden our garden.