Friday, 30 March 2012

"A-GARDEN-WITHIN-A-GARDEN" - DAY 6

Hmmmm, I said that I shouldn't speak too soon!

Living on an island that has no heavy industry and the type of manufacturing that is generally viewed as cottage industries in other countries, is pretty idyllic for the most part.....until you need something.  As of yesterday the island was bereft of cement! That's right, there is not a one single bag of cement to be had for love, nor money.  We have eeked out the supply that I purchased at the beginning of the week and managed to make good progress. The low retaining walls for the new garden are complete and three sides have a neat crown of mortar - there is just about enough cement left to finish the remaining side, which will happen on Monday.  However, plastering the wall will have to wait for a new shipment of cement to arrive on island.....so like the characters in the movie "Casablanca", we must wait, and wait, and wait.....

Well actually, it's not so bad, the cement ship is due to arrive in port on 15th April.  The contents will have to be unloaded, clear Customs and will then make its way to the retailer. So, by my reckoning and with the island's 'laissez faire' approach to life - we should be back on track in about 3 weeks!  Being a rather impatient gardener, I have decided that we will continue to work on the project but that the remaining stages will have to be done out of sequence, not least because if I let Handy Andy go, there's no telling when he may decide to come back if he gets another project to work on.

So, starting on Monday, I will purchase timber for the surrounding fencing and possibly the covered workbench/potting shed-cum-shelter-cum-arbor-cum-gazebo (I haven't quite decided which as yet) and we'll plaster the walls at a later stage. Reading this, it sounds as though I am building a recreation ground for a local community, when in reality it's just a small sanctuary and secluded "garden-within-a-garden".  However, for me, it's another great stride in turning a piece of wilderness that has stood empty since Grandpa bought it back in 1924, into a real home and garden.

It's dark now, so I will take some updated photos over the weekend.   It's the end of what has been a rather busy and slightly manic week - of which the garden project and a very sickly mother has been just two small elements; I'm looking forward to a peaceful weekend of serene pottering.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

"A GARDEN-WITHIN-A-GARDEN" - DAY 3

The project is coming along nicely and right on track (a rare achievement here!).  Let's hope I haven't spoken too soon.

That said, there is one problem.....ME!  The spot is looking so good that my imagination is running away with me and I'm considering adding a covered seating area, a work/potting bench and a rain water gathering system (something relatively small scale but enough to water the plants occasionally)....and so the thoughts grow and my head is filled with possibilities. Hmmmm, time to review that budget and rein in some of these flights of fancy.

So a quick visual catch up of where we are today (actually this was about 2pm; by the end of the day a couple more rows of blocks had been added). 

Concrete footings down and first rows of blocks laid (lots of stepping to be done due to the slope)

View from garden beyond toward the house

View that is inspiring me to add a seating area in the "garden-within-the-garden"

Friday, 23 March 2012

OUT OF CHAOS - DAY 1

Finally, the task has begun in earnest!  What a busy day.  The simplest of tasks can be so very complex here in my island home. No convenient middle man to call on the phone or place an on-line order to deliver sand, cement, aggregate and cinder blocks - that would be too easy.

So, a visit to the hot dusty quarry, where I stood a lone woman amongst the big burly truck drivers trying to place my meagre (compared to the truckers) order of aggregate, in the blazing sun with not a bit of shade to be had.  I felt quite faint and covered in stone dust but showed no fear!

No ready-bagged stuff here! I had to wait for my order to come off the crusher. Next stage was to find a suitably trustworthy driver to carry my hard-won spoils back to the homestead. Thankfully, I  remembered a very nice chap from a previous visit who was happy to undertake this task. Leaving behind the quarry, a visit to the home depot to purchase bags of cement and blocks - another load, another driver. The steep and winding road to my place means that only a handful of drivers are prepared to take on the job.  Next stop BRC (rebar) and steel rods, and beautiful white sand from Martinique, and another truck delivery.

On my return, Handy Andy, my little helper had managed to finish digging the footings for the block wall - it took a full day and a half and he works non-stop out in the hot sun. 

As the work day comes to an end, all materials are delivered, unloaded and carried to the far end of the garden ready for Stage 2 which will begin on Monday, if Handy Andy remembers to turn up. He hasn't "remembered" for three Mondays in a row......





And whilst all this is going on, the garden continues to work its magic all by itself and bananas, plantains and mangoes are appearing from nowhere - isn't nature amazing!






Thursday, 22 March 2012

WHY SUCH EXTRAVAGANT RAISED BEDS?

A few people have very kindly offered other, cheaper, instant solutions to my rather extravagant raised bed project.  I truly welcome all suggestions.

Unfortuantely, living in an area prone to hurricanes and resultant flash floods, combined with the fact that I am on a very steep slope with a good deal of land above me, this feels like a "needs must" project.

Although costly, the thought of all the hard work of growing organic vegetables, only to have them washed away in the blink of an eye is too upsetting to contemplate; so concrete footings, block walls and drainage pipes feel like the only way to go.....

Here's what happened to my top soil the last time we had a flash flood....


Can you see the house in the very early stages up on the hill?

Monday, 19 March 2012

BABY STEPS AND DONKEY BRAIN

Today I read a quote that said "You don't have to go FAST, you just have to GO" which proved to be a very timely reminder (though for me, would be even better if the word "GO" was subbed with "START").

Everyone has their own motivation and ways of tackling issues; for me some things need to happen quickly otherwise I lose interest and momentum, while other projects can be maintained on a slow burn, providing I do at least one small thing a day towards the goal in question.

So what have I been procrastinating over (other than writing my blog!)? Well it's been some time since the trees and elephant grass were cleared for the area that is to be the organic vegetable garden. I have a ton of seed either gathered from other gardeners or purchased from the seed merchant during my recent trip to the UK (anyone who knows York, knows Barnitts - a veritable Aladdin's Cave for the homemaker, DIY enthusiast and gardener alike).  So what is the hold up?

Ironically, in an effort to live more frugally and sustainably, the initial stumbling block is financial! Though I have no doubt that this is true for many who would love to leave their current lives and head to their own little homestead in the country.

Anyway - I had begun in earnest last year with my first crop of lettuce, arugula (rocket), chinese cabbage, pak choi, aubergines, carrots and tomatoes which were all doing quite nicely until the dogs arrived and brought proceedings to a halt. I take full responsibility! As puppies, they destroyed seedboxes full of seedlings, whilst I was busy taking cute photos of them doing so. In  the meantime, they were developing a perchant for fresh vegetables.  So, now to proceed with the garden means it must be dog-proof.

I had looked at a number of possibilities and finally decided that the only option was to fully fence the whole area with a 5ft high fence, however, the cost was astounding and totally beyond my means. With this option off the table, I have dragged my feet, tutted and complained and generally been hopeless about finding an alternative solution, allowing valuable weeks to slip away and not a single seed sown.  I was beginning to feel like the donkey in the story told by Susan Jeffers in her book "Feel the Fear and do it anyway!".

The story goes something like this......A rather hungry donkey stood in a field with a stack of delicious-looking feed in each corner.  The donkey weighed up his options and deliberated but could not decide which stack of feed he should make his way to.  Time passed and he continued to weigh up the pros and cons "what if I go to that one and I don't like it when I get there..." ...."what if that one way over there is better, I'll be even further away from it than I am now"......and so on; his indecision kept him rooted to the spot and unable to proceed in either direction until eventually he became so weak with hunger that he no longer had the strength to make his way to any of the piles. His procrastination and fear of making the wrong decision had paralysed him, until making no decision at all proved to be far worse......anyway, you can see what I'm getting at (by the way, I highly recommend the book - there are many gems and "Arh-ha!" moments).

So here I was feeling slightly defeated and deflated and making zero progress. Then suddenly today, whilst standing in the newly mown and very empty new garden, it was as though I had seen a light - what I like to call a "Road to Damascus" moment.  The stumbling block was not the extortionate cost of the fence, but my own inability to see that other options were available and that the original plan was not the only possible route. I could do this project in small baby steps rather than being paralysed into in-action by trying to take one huge (rather costly) leap.

THE SOLUTION?: instead of a huge garden measuring approx 150ft x 100ft, why not make one raised bed at a time and just fence it individually?  It would work and the fence would double as vertical supports for growing cucumbers, melons, squash etc., upright rather than along the ground. Eureka!

So, the man will come tomorrow to:

1. Dig a trench around an area 25 ft x 15 ft
2. Lay concrete footings for block walls to sit on
3. Build a wall all around, three or four layers high (6" breeze/cinder blocks) and some steps up
4, Line with metal netting to keep out ground burrowing pests
5. Back fill with organic top soil
6. Add a 4ft fence to sit on top of the block wall and a gate to go into the "garden-within-a-garden"
7. Add gravel boards and pea gravel to create paths between the beds
8. PLANT!

Et Voila!

So, by letting go of my original idea and considering another option, suddenly I see that there can be ACTION, which means there will be PROGRESS!  Seems so simple, yet I have been delaying making a start for weeks because of this one single issue. I can't understand why I didn't think of it before??  I guess I just needed a kick in the pants and some motivation to truly apply myself to finding an alternative solution.

The Happy Hippy 1 - Donkey Brain 0  




Sunday, 11 March 2012

SUNNY SPRING SUNDAY


It's a beautiful Sunday morning here - the sun is shining, the sky is blue and there's a light fresh East wind. A tad on the humid side with temps around 30c/86F but very pleasant and Spring-like.  Trevor the gardener is here today (it's his day off from his real job as a gardener at a rather grand house in the upscale "Cap Estate" region of the island, so I get to borrow him).  It's all about the pretty kind of gardening today - the stuff you feast on with your eyes, rather than your taste buds, but no less delicious in my view.   So, Trevor is cutting grass (all 37,000 sq ft of it!) and I'm planting flowering shrubs.  I know that we are a few days beyond the official Full Moon planting times, but I tend to be less pedantic with the ornamentals than I am with the fruit and vegetables.

Had a walk around with my camera to capture some of these pretty sights and have been experimenting with a bit of photo-magic (courtesy of  picmonkey.com), whilst I have a quick coffee and chocolate break.

So here's my first attempt - a little "chocolate-boxy" but I thought I would share anyway - it can only get better from here ; ) 

Wishing everyone a fabulous Sunday, whether you are working, resting or playing....sending blue skies, sunshine, warmth and huge St Lucian SMILES!   



Friday, 9 March 2012

PUPPY PROGRESS

Well it seems I can't call them puppies anymore as they are now 17 months old, but George is definitely still growing and seems to get bigger by the day.  Everything I have read suggests that he would have reached his full size around 9 - 12 months - reality says otherwise. Ilsa, on the other hand, seems to have stopped growing a while back (but doing much better than expected being the runt of the litter and oh so tiny when she was younger). She is filling out now but, compared to George, is still small and cute - though even I look small and cute when I stand next to the big fella!

Both are reasonably well behaved and those folk who filled my head with horror stories of destroyed homes and gardens were only right to some extent.  A pair of "Curate's Eggs" - they have their good sides and then they have their "other" side. The seedlings and flowers beds that they dug up for fun or trampled whilst chasing lizards in their early days have, more or less, fully recovered and overall the garden is looking full and pretty, however, if I ever want to taste low hanging fruit, I have to beat them to it.

All said and done, I would not have them any other way - both are full of character (like the people we know, each have their very own quirks and foibles) and are lots of fun. We spend endless hours laughing at our own silliness (I include myself in that).  The story of the crazy lady with an old broom, two mad dogs and a frenzied rat being chased all around the garage will no doubt be told and re-told over time. The destroyed Barbour jacket.....and yesterday, a manic moment of trying to aid a mongoose's escape from the clutches of two very excitable hounds who, in their view, were just executing their duty, for after all a mongoose does look rather like an extremely large rat, wearing a tail toupee - thankfully the wiley mongoose remained unscathed....this time.

And now I have a hankering to get one more canine companion, just because I fancy having a dog called Reg about the place : ))  




If only I could keep my eyes open for just one more mouthful...yawn, y-a-w-n!

Hmmm, there goes another box of greens! "We just love helping the Mama!"




George snoozing in his private pool

I know you just mopped the floor, but can I come in just for a while? Can I, can I?


The Big Fella...

....and the Little Miss

George doing what George does best : )

Eh, I think my head is stuck Mama.....H-E-L-P!!


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

IN THE SPRING THERE WILL BE NEW GROWTH...

Well actually, no need to wait for Spring, a cooler spell and some good showers of rain have caused more than just a stirring in the garden.

My poor drought stricken cocoa sapling and avocado trees have suddenly and miraculously burst into life and what a heartwarming sight they are.

All over the island, an abundance of pink and yellow mango flowers fill the air with their heavy, cloying perfume and many have already set a good crop of fruit. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly these tropical trees go through their cycle of blossom, fruit and harvest. It's just about a month ago that we were bemoaning the end of our own mangoes and here they are again, perfectly formed and growing nicely. A what a crop! It seems to be a veritable "Embarrassment of Mangoes" to quote Ann Vanderhoof's book title.

Whilst the long, hot, summer days last a little too long (5 - 6 months) and are just a tad too hot for my liking, I am looking forward to those months when I can enjoy many mangoes straight from the tree.....or maybe mango sorbet, mango smoothie, mango mousse, mango salsa, mango martinis or daiquiris - what's your favourite way to serve or eat mangoes?

A self seeded West Indian Lime (Key Lime)

Beautiful new shoots of recovery on the avocado



A huge old mango tree in full flower and house in the background with its fresh coat of paint