Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Today is the first day I've been to look at the allotment since mid November and I've missed it. It's Christmas day in less than a week and I've been a bit busy and what with one thing and another I just haven't made the time to walk up the hill and see how things are looking. It's done me a lot of good. A combination of appalling middle aged hormones and a nasty dose of SAD has left me feeling sorry for myself. I don't know why I never remember that being at the allotment is the cure for all ills, but I'm sure it is. I've come home almost human.

This little robin kept me company while I dug up some leeks and parsnips. The broad beans I'd planted a while back have emerged but most of them have had their shoots nipped off by something, possibly squirrels, so I'll put the rest of the seeds in pots and take them up to plant when they're grown big enough to stand a chance against the wildlife. The squirrels look very cute and perky but they're a real pest these days. They don't seem to eat the plants they destroy, they just pull the tops off and leave them there next to the rest of the plant. Odd, and very annoying behaviour. Is there a squirrel psychiatrist out there?

Oh well, back to the pre-Christmas list-making. I hope I've now sorted out what we're eating and when. It's going to be so much easier this year because my Mum has decided she didn't use her small chest freezer enough so she's given it to us. Brilliant! We fetched it in the camper a couple of weeks ago and it's now installed in the airing cupboard in the space where the old hot water tank was. It was removed when the new boiler was fitted so we had the space available and because the freezer emits heat, the airing cupboard still warms the bedding and towels. Clever, huh? (Not my idea of course, J thought of it)
So far, I'm using it for Christmas stuff but it'll be really useful when the fruit's ready next year.

Happy gardening (and list-making)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Planting bulbs and beans

Before I start telling you about bulbs and beans I must just say that the heating engineer has been with us this week and has performed miracles! Our house, which is large and Victorian with the usual lovely high ceilings and original sash windows, has always been difficult to heat in the winter. Since the old boiler died it has been pretty grim and we'd dug out a selection of unflattering woollies to wear as we huddled around the cat to keep warm in the evenings. With our new high efficiency rated condensing boiler the cat cuddling has returned to previous levels (the cat is, of course, bewildered by the sudden change) The heating engineer was reassuring that the insulation we use will keep the heat in, so we don't intend to overheat the place. It's just so wonderful to be warm! He says the new boiler is 91% efficient compared to probably less than 50% for the 30 year old one we replaced. After the initial play around with the controls we'll probably stick to a modest 17 or 18 degrees in the evenings. Not tropical anyway.

Anyway, with the advent of some more cold, dry weather I've been messing about under the old apple tree. When we first took over the allotment it was a fine, low branched, (huge) tree of unknown variety that the boys used to climb. Because it was so useful as a climbing tree we though of the apples as a bonus, they came early and didn't keep but the flavour was very good. Over the years, the boys got too big to climb the tree and it managed to acquire all sorts of pests and diseases so after several attempts at pruning and even more poor fruiting years we gave up. We chopped it down as far as we could and I was going to try to take it down even further, put a plank on top and make it into a bench. But, I could never find the right tool to saw through the thick trunk and while we deliberated, it sneakily threw out more and more branches until last year, we realised, it really, really wanted to be tree again. So...I've done some more pruning and today, I've planted bulbs around the base. Welcome back tree. I only chopped you down because I thought you were pretty dead! I'd mulched the grass in a sort of circle around the base so it was easier to dig into it and make holes for the bulbs and I was going to clear the grass away but I was overwhelmed with indecision (it happens a lot, I'm afraid) and I think I'm now going to let the grass grow back. It'll look more natural.

Before I went home I put in another row of broad bean seeds and sat on the hut step admiring the autumn colours. Because we're on a hill you can see down over the city and at the moment every little bit that used to be green is tinged with lovely russets and browns. The sky was clear too, winter clear, which is quite different from a clear sky in summer. Lovely. Maybe I'll make a small stained glass sculpture to hang in the tree. I'm making garden sculptures at the moment, mostly to "plant" in the ground or in a pot, but I could do some hanging ones too. As long as they're wired onto a branch they should stay on ok in the wind. Hmm. I need to go and do some designing.
Happy gardening

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wow - frost

The first thing I do most mornings is fumble for my glasses and read the temperature on the inside/outside sensor on the wall next to my bed. I'm ever so slightly obsessed with the temperature so there's another one in the kitchen too! At this time of year it starts to get quite interesting, 2 degrees this morning and there was quite a frost on the roofs and the cars outside.

It felt like quite a few degrees of frost in the house as well, we've got no heating until the (dead) boiler is replaced. Not long to wait now however, the man says he's coming next week and we're all looking forward to his arrival even though I'm sure we'll have a week's worth of builder type upheaval. Ed (older son) has taken to saying things like "ooh, only another 14 days" as though the heating engineer is Father Christmas or something!

It was so beautiful this morning with the sunlight streaming down and highlighting the glittering frost, so I wrapped up like a roly poly woman and went up the road to take some pictures. The standing stone is sheltered from the early morning sun by a bramble hedge so there was enough frost left there to photograph but the sun is obviously still pretty strong and it melted fast.

My total haul of vegetables was a sad little butternut, the last one on the plant and unfortunately partly frozen. We'll have to eat it very soon. There's not much left to pick at the moment.

In my dreams, we would move away from the city and create a haven of self-sufficiency a la John Seymour and only ever need to shop for tea, coffee and bananas, but in my heart of hearts I know that we'd probably starve. I wish I was more organised and then at least we'd have successive plantings and a more reliable source of our own food throughout the year. Project - must do better.
Happy winter gardening

Saturday, November 10, 2007

seed order

I spent part of yesterday morning poring over the catalogue and trying not to go too mad choosing seeds for next year. I think I've made some good choices, I've gone for the same parsnips and runner beans as this year because they were really good (Tender and True for the parsnips and Scarlet Emperor beans) but when J came home from work he did his own bit of poring and made some novel suggestions about what we shouldn't plant this time. He reckons we should give the potatoes a miss this year along with the sweetcorn and concentrate on squashes.

It took me a few moments to come to terms with the idea but actually, we didn't get any cobs off the corn because the badgers (wildebeeste) had them all and potatoes are cheap to buy locally so, yeah! I think it's a good idea. In 2008 we will not be growing potatoes or corn!

We're planning on growing carrots, parsnips, turnips and maybe a few beetroot, runner beans, french beans and sugar snaps, lots of interesting squashes, lettuces and other salad bits and pieces. The onions, garlic and leeks are already in the ground for next year as are the winter cabbages and purple broccoli and actually you know, we haven't really got much more room on our plot. There are some unused patches at the moment, but come spring, I expect I'll have the usual problem of finding somewhere to plant out seedlings grown at home.

We had a quick visit to the allotment today (Saturday) but didn't get much done. J made a new brick path across the top patch while I popped a row of broad beans in where the courgettes had come out. It was nice and sunny and there were quite a few people there. We met some new neighbours and admired what they've done so far. I also had a chat with some not quite so new neighbours who have just planted some new trees, including a Marjorie's Seedling plum, like ours. They'd been impressed by the amount of fruit on it this summer so I hope theirs is as productive.

Now we've made our choices, we've got to do the actual ordering. I believe we can do it online these days so I'll do it tonight when I get back from the pub...on second thoughts...

Happy gardening (and planning ahead)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Planting raspberries

Ooh me back! I've just had a hot bath and I'm still almost bent double!

I took out the runner beans, dismantled the poles and dumped all the greenery onto the compost (leaving the roots in the soil to fix nitrogen). Then I dug it all over and added masses of compost before digging three trenches for my new raspberry canes. I really, really hope they take. I've had bad luck with my summer raspberries so I'm hoping these autumn ones will be more resistant to diseases and bugs. We all love raspberries and they are always dreadfully expensive in the shops so I wouldn't buy them if I didn't grow them. This year we hardly had any.

So, here's hoping....
Happy gardening

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Autumn recipe

Well, I know this is a really rubbish photo but I took it myself, holding the camera in one hand and hoping I'd got my whole head in the shot along with the butternut squash. As you can see, it grew enough to be harvested (and for me to be ridiculously pleased with myself) so I had to put it into the blog, even though the photo's so fuzzy that my own mother wouldn't recognise me. Probably just as well!

We eat lots of these in the winter months along with various other squashes and small pumpkins and a particular favourite recipe with my family is this one.
Take a squash, halve it and scoop out the seeds and fill the hollows with lumps of butter and loads of chopped garlic and microwave it until it's a bit soft. Then fill it with a pre-cooked mixture made of:
chopped onion
diced carrots
diced parsnips
diced sweet potatoes (lots of dicing going on here)
red lentils and enough water to cook them
a few small tomatoes
tomato puree
salt, pepper, a teeny bit of tabasco, fresh oregano's good too
a teaspoon of the mystery ingredient (ok, it's marmite)
anything else that seems like a good idea at the time

Then I put grated cheese on everybody's bit except mine because I don't eat cheese and it goes in a medium hot oven for half an hour or so
It's very, very yummy - real comfort food which for some reason the boys have always called Mr Grumblebum and if you think it's because it has an unfortunate side effect, it's not. When they were little we had a small pumpkin sitting on the kitchen table for a week or so and the kids gave it a name. Honest.

Well, time to go but I've been given some bare rooted autumn raspberries so whatever the weather chucks at me tomorrow I shall make time to go up and get them into the ground. I've wrapped them in wet newspaper for tonight so they should be ok
Happy gardening (and comfort cooking)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pond Clearing

It's my favourite sort of weather today, the sort of crispness in the air that makes you think of frost, steam rising up from the wet long grass as the sun's heat gets going for the day and a perfect blue sky. It won't be long before there really is frost. The garlic should go in before it gets cold, it's better for it to be in the ground by then, it seems to give it a kick start. I don't think there's anything else that could be seen as urgent though, I mean, there are always jobs to do, but nothing that can't wait a day or two.

Actually, something that shouldn't wait much longer is paying the allotment bill! I've had it these last three weeks and I keep forgetting to bring my card up to the office so that I can pay online. In theory it should be so much quicker than sending a cheque but that's only if I actually get round to doing it! This weekend, honest!

This morning I took my washing up gloves with me as well as my camera and got to grips with the very overgrown pond. I've hardly been able to see the water all summer, the plants had burgeoned massively this year. So, I've thinned (hacked at) the yellow flag irises and marsh marigolds and also some other stuff that had become so rampant that it was climbing out of the pond altogether and I don't even think I put it there in the first place. I've no idea what it was but there's considerably less of it now! Then I took my chair and my flask and set them where I could admire my work and enjoyed my coffee break with a couple of frogs staring at me all boggly eyed. I don't think they minded really, they always look like that!

As I left for home, I put my old yellow bucket on the wall with the salvaged flag irises. I can't bring myself to just shove them in the compost. I hope somebody will take them. I've left a note so hopefully the bucket won't go too. It's not much use really (no handle). My other bucket has a handle but it's also got a big split in the bottom! And before you suggest, the handle won't detach and then go on the yellow one. I'd already thought of that! Time to go I think..
Happy gardening (with boggly eyed frogs)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Butternut squash ok?

Whew, what a scorcher! Fabulous weather, endless blue sky and vest and shorts temperature again, particularly when you're digging. I alternated between digging, clearing up and sitting under the tree drinking green tea with lemon. Lots of people were there today, I think Friday must be a popular day to have off work.

Today I've pulled the sugar snap peas out and stacked the canes away, dug up some madly seeding salad leaves that had been far too peppery for me to bother saving them, I've taken the netting off the strawberries and rolled it up into a bundle and stowed it carefully in the hut. Next spring, when I go looking for a nice clean piece of netting I know that it will have turned into a knotted, tortuous bit of unravelling knitting and I won't have the patience to untangle it so I'll have to buy some more! That's what usually happens anyway!

I had another look at the butternut squashes. The plants are amazingly prolific with fronds escaping all over the path in several different directions. What I had been going to say about them last time was that the little butternuts don't seem to be doing very well. There are lots of them but when they get to about two inches long, they go yellow and drop, I was complaining about their lack of progress to a friend when we spotted that three of them have got bigger and bigger and finally look as though they'll grow into big butternuts! I'm really pleased. They looked so promising it would be a shame to end up composting the lot without some successful produce.

Last time I wrote my diary entry I was chased off the computer by a desperately hungry cat, this time it's J, just arrived home from work and still in his cycling gear but hovering anxiously over me because it's really his computer! I know my place.
Happy gardening.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Lazy gardener

Several seasons in one day today. There was a proper autumn mist this morning as J and the boys set off for work and school. It had all gone by the time I'd fried my brain with too many hours of computer use and decided I needed some fresh air. By then it was summer again and I had to take off all the extra layers I'd been wearing!

I did a bit of idle picking (some runner beans, more courgettes and artichokes) but mostly I just wandered around admiring other people's plots and then sat in the sun with my eyes shut. I'm a bit tired today so I decided not to start on digging the top bed, my next job. The ground is still very soggy after the recent rain so I didn't do anything about planting the daffodils under the old tree either. I took some photos of the burnt tree, mostly dead, but the branches stood out in a really interesting pattern against the blue sky. An artistic one I think! The other one's a mistake - it was supposed to be a butternut squash plant but I pasted the wrong one in. Silly me. Now I can't make it go away! I think you'll have to put up with it because it's time for me to go and start on dinner, feed the cat and generally turn into superwoman for the next hour or two. You know the sort of thing.
In fact I'm getting filthy looks from the cat right now!
Happy cat feeding.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

There were rumours of frost on the radio weather forecast. I'd been making a quiche with Gardener's Question Time imparting wisdom in the background and I was suddenly galvanised into action! As soon as I was able to leave the house I went up the hill and harvested anything that was ready. There was a fine haul of runner beans, two artichokes (I'm swapping those with a friend for a small rosemary plant in a pot) a courgette, two parsnips and my first ever turnip! I also gathered some mint and sage and a bag of spinach beet. I also picked a few greenish tomatoes to put in a bowl in the kitchen with some red ones. I don't know why but this helps them to ripen. The other thing you can do is put them in a paper bag in a drawer but I forget about them if I do that and find the mushy remains months later!

The plants themselves will have to take their chances if there's a frost. Usually, the courgettes die off pretty quickly but everything else should be ok for a while. The tomatoes won't like it either but they've been pretty rubbish this year anyway. After I'd cut the bits with blight off they recovered slowly and eventually I got a handful of tomatoes from most of the plants. Some just laid down and died so I grubbed them up and disposed of the bodies! ....... a pause while I look for a are some post blight tomatoes. You can see the browning along the stem where the disease left its mark.

In some ways the cold snap at the end of the growing season is quite invigorating. I find the cold wind breathes energy into me and I start planning next year's planting. My organic seed catalogue arrived in the post yesterday so my bedtime reading is sorted out for a few days! (I need something therapeutic after taking my older son out for his driving practice every day. He's actually doing very well but my nerves get rather jangled!) The downside of autumn is the way it gets dark almost immediately after we've eaten our dinner so we tend to spend more time indoors. Having said that, I'm going to go out with the camera tonight and try to photograph the moon shortly after moonrise. It's a Harvest Moon, J says it's an illusion that it's so huge when it's low down in the sky but it's a lovely illusion and worth taking photos if it's clear.
Happy gardening (and moongazing)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Change of season

It really felt like Autumn just now, in fact, as I was about to leave and come home for a cup of coffee, I had immense difficulty shutting the hut door because the wind was so strong. Our hut is facing down the hill and every year it seems to give another lurch and tip further over. I used to think that it would be ok because on one side it's held up by a winter jasmine hedge and on the other by a big old honeysuckle but now I'm not so sure. It looks like it might be sliding between them and if it does, it'll just go rolling over onto the top patch. It would be such a mega job to clear it out and straighten it up that I've never been able to face it before but it looks like a job for this coming winter.

There were still courgettes and beans to pick along with tomatoes and one strawberry (!) but the plums I was expecting had gone. I'd netted these against pigeons so I was surprised that they'd gone, especially as they weren't visible under the leaves. The plums have been fabulous. I planted the tree last spring so this is the first year of proper fruit-bearing and I've been very impressed so far. The variety is Marjorie's Seedling which is supposed to be an all purpose cooking and dessert plum and it's certainly been good for both. It seems to be a prolific cropper too, particularly in comparison with my new apple tree (planted at the same time) and now suffering from something that I haven't yet been able to identify. Actually, that's unfair to the apple tree, the apples tasted good - there just weren't that many of them and they were teeny weeny.

Still, there's no plums left now! The last plum tart has been consumed! Lucky I'd taken the picture a week or so ago. I shall have to turn my mind to digging and other autumn tasks.

One of the lovely features of late summer/early autumn is the allotment tea party which started up a few years ago and this year's was last Sunday. J and I had been away for the weekend in our campervan but we arrived back home in time to show our (sunburned) faces. Some allotment holders had made wonderful cakes and preserves to have with our tea so we sampled some. Cylla's courgette cake was splendid. Yum. It's also nice to stop and talk to the people we normally see from a distance, busily tending their own plots. We should make more time to talk to each other, it increases the sense of community there which can only be a good thing.
Time to go, I'm afraid
Happy gardening

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Parsnips by night

Last night we went up to the allotment at a silly time, it was only a few minutes away from sunset so we knew we wouldn't get anything done. We just went for the sake of a bit of fresh air and because it was such a nice evening.

As I walked up the path I spotted some more strawberries so I picked those, then we noticed some damage caused to our sweetcorn. Every plant has been knocked down and the cobs ripped apart and scattered across the ground. I haven't a clue what could have blitzed them so thoroughly, pigeons wouldn't have made so much mess surely? We came up with various ideas - badgers seem most likely although I've never seen them on the allotments or heard about them there. The foxes aren't likely contenders either. We were starting to say things like "warthogs" and "wildebeeste" to each other because of the way it looked as though some hefty mammal had charged about in the sweetcorn patch, shovelling the plants aside with huge tusks! My sensible allotment neighbour has netted her sweetcorn to preserve it from pigeons so maybe I should have done that too. Whatever it was (and I'm sure it wasn't pigeons) has been put off by the net.

While we were spontaneously generating names of unlikely animals it went dark on us so any remaining gardening had to be done by feel, which was a bit weird. I dug up some parsnips (pictured) but then we called it a day and strolled home for a glass of wine.
Happy gardening (mostly in daylight)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bank Holiday weekend

It's been a lovely weekend. The late summer bank holiday is a traditional time for us to spend time at home, rather than join the fraught, exhausted and boiling hot masses in motorway queues so we enjoyed a peaceful weekend here in sunny Bristol.

One of the constant jobs of summer is strimming the paths and the areas of grass around the old apple tree and by the pond and I'm afraid I leave that to J. It's a man thing. He doesn't do weeding because it's too girly (fiddly) so I guess it evens out. Anyway, he manfully strimmed the whole allotment on Sunday, while I did very little but yesterday I was back to lugging cans of water up and down from the trough. It's finally been dry enough to need a bit of water and I was watering in liquid feed around the roots of all the vegetables. They need a bit of perking up at this stage of the growing season. I found an old bottle of Maxicrop at the back of the shed, heaven knows when I bought it, it must be years old - and I diluted it by loads because it had turned into a thick treacly sludge. It seemed ok though so I'm hoping it will pep up the production now everything has started to slow down a bit. It's got to be good stuff - it smells so awful. It's made of seaweed and has a bouquet like seagull sh*t. I'm following the theory that medicine only does you any good if it tastes nasty!

The slowing down means we get time to do other things too. I've been swimming in the lake a few times and we had a bbq on Saturday. Amongst other things we did skewered vegetables and mounds of beans along with the grilled meat. Here's a recipe for using some of those beans:

A pile of french beans
Hard boiled eggs
Chopped garlic (loads)
A little bit of butter
Sea salt
Fresh ground coloured pepper (I use the one with red, green, white, black and pimento all in one grinder, it's called Bristol pepper)

Cook the beans al dente, peel the eggs and quarter, melt the butter in a little dish in the microwave and add the garlic. sizzle for a minute and then combine everything into a serving dish. Add the seasoning and parsley.

It takes only minutes and it's good enough to have for a main meal with crusty bread but on Saturday of course it was just an extra side dish.

Happy gardening (and barbecueing)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Today I've had some help. A rather shamefaced sixteen year old boy who didn't do as well as he hoped in his GCSE's decided he might regain some brownie points with his mum if he gave me a hand. So the horrible job of wheeling home-made compost from our tiny weeny back garden up the hill to the allotment fell to him, as did the equally knackering one of digging out all the broad beans and weeds so that we could spread the compost over the top patch. He was a great help actually, I really appreciate it. I just wish it was for a different reason.

Last time we were at the allotment J had emptied out one of our two large plastic compost bins onto the edge of the top patch and it was interesting to compare compost from this to the stuff from home. The home stuff seems vastly superior, much richer and full of healthy looking worms. It makes sense I suppose, there's much more of a variety of kitchen peelings, egg boxes and green garden rubbish going into it. The allotment bins get filled with grass and weeds, although I do occasionally take shredded bank statements and loo roll inners up to add to the mixture. I'm sure cardboard is very good to keep it aerated.

I really do find compost a fascinating subject. I know it sounds weird but it's true! When we were all on a family holiday in Wales (in a tent, in the rain) we went to look around the wonderful Centre for Alternative Technology where we embarrassed our children by getting terribly excited by a compost exhibition. The boys thought it was awful that their parents could want to plunge their hands into different bins of it and sniff the various mixtures. However, I'm determined they're going to understand the value of making it even if they're at the wrong life stage to appreciate it at the moment. At least my family members of the ipod generation are going to know how to provide food for their families in the future even if at the moment it's not a priority for them.

Well, I suppose I'd better get down off my soap box and start cooking some of the lovely beans we brought home or we won't get any dinner. Yes I know the time on these blogs suggests I'm an an insomniac but I think it must mean American time, and I'm in England.
Happy gardening (and bean cooking)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

It's Balloon Fiesta weekend so we're really busy. The weather so far has been fantastic for flying and for spectating and our balloon has been flying every morning and evening. J's camping at the Fiesta site but I'm such a wimp that I came home last night and spent a comfortable night in my own bed and had the pleasure of a refreshing shower. (I do so hate festival toilets, and what's more, there didn't seem to be any running water )

So, last night I picked huge amounts of beans, french and runners and courgettes (anybody want any courgettes?) with about a hundred and twenty balloons trooping across the sky in front of me. Most of my photos were crummy though. I think the balloons were just that little bit too far away to look good but this morning was quite different!

I saw the balloons from the house first thing as I was opening the curtains but we live in a dip and the nearest high ground is at the allotment so I shoved on any old clothes (hoping I didn't see anyone I know!) and ran up the road with the camera. They were really close this time, I couldn't see ours but I took photos of the nearest ones. The photo in the blog today is taken from the path between the huts and the balloon's advertising is for Cameron Balloons, based in Bristol. They were so close I could hear the people in the basket talking in the silence between burns.

I spent quite a bit of time chasing about this morning with my camera. Balloons continued taking off until much later and the light breeze kept the balloons drifting over Bishopston so I kept seeing more pop up unexpectedly between the houses or hearing burners from hidden balloons after I thought they'd all gone.

It's late morning as I write this and I now have to go and get some supplies for a barbeque for later on this afternoon. We'll have it early before this evening's flight and this evening I intend to brave the tent and the festival toilets again for another night,
Happy gardening (and ballooning)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

It's almost dark now but today has been a lovely day. I've just planted out some lettuce seedlings and another row of carrot seed and watered the new leek bed. The water content of the soil must still be pretty high, we've had very little respite from the rain for nearly two months so watering is one job we haven't had to do. I usually have arms like an orang outang by this time of year from carrying two watering cans up and down the allotment every night. Very feminine!

The rain has brought problems though. The whole site has got tomato and potato blight. We dug up all the potatoes last Saturday and so far they look ok but I'll have to keep checking them. Once one gets mushy the whole bag goes. I haven't culled the tomatoes completely, just cut off the brown bits but if they get any worse they'll have to go. It's a real shame but I'm not surprised, this humid weather provides ideal conditions for the blight to develop.

The french beans, runner beans and courgettes are doing very well though. The fruit's been good too. I'm jamming this week (a bit like Bob know the one I mean) I've made josta jam and redcurrant jelly so far. I'm busy tomorrow but Friday's going to be bramble jelly day. I've got millions of blackberries so they may as well make jelly as well as crumbles. It's ridiculously labour intensive but I love that row of deep red and purple jars when they're finished. Goodness, I'm exhausted thinking about it!
Time for a well deserved cup of tea I think!
Happy gardening.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Mmm bliss. We've finally had a bit of summer. The weekend's been great, the sky's been blue, the wind's dropped a bit and a weird bright thing started shining in the sky. I couldn't remember what it was when it first appeared but we've really enjoyed it beaming down on us. I may even get a tan!
I wish I'd had the camera with me though, I had a close encounter with a sleepy fox who was very unfazed by me as I crashed around in the undergrowth of an untended allotment looking for raspberries. He stood up and looked at me, no further than a few feet away, and decided that I was no threat so he curled up again and closed his eyes. He was an adult fox, not the young one I've been looking for, so I think he's learned that the people he meets on the allotments are not going to chase him away. I have seen the young one now though, a few days ago. As I was leaving, a slim young adolescent fox streaked across in front of me and made for the woods. I didn't get a close look but he was a fine looking young animal. Some of the older ones get mange and their tails lose that bushy, foxy quality that is so very appealing.
I also wish I'd had the camera yesterday evening when, as we were coming towards the end of a lovely day, there was a loud thundering roar of engines and we looked up to see an amazing sight. A wartime flypast of a Lancaster bomber, a Hurricane and a Spitfire, flying in tight formation over the allotments, seemingly just for us! J says it was the Battle of Britain memorial flypast. They went round twice, not quite so low the second time but we still had a ringside seat. Fantastic. And not recorded on the camera. Shame!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Huge moth

I nipped up to the allotment yesterday to pick a few beans and courgettes for dinner. It's been raining for ever so I wasn't expecting to be long but it was dry enough (in wellies) to just wander around for a minute or two. I was looking at some salad leaves that have started to bolt when I saw a huge bug grasping onto one of the leaves. It made me jump at first because I nearly picked it!

I took it home in one of the boxes I use for fruit, clear plastic with air holes, the leaves came with it in case it wanted them to eat. The boys have finished school for the summer so they were around and the older one promptly identified my moth as a privet hawk moth. I was dead impressed with his knowledge, he had a friend with him who thought he was blagging so we Googled it and lo and behold! Absolutely correct - a privet hawk moth it is!

When J came home from work we spent some time taking bug portraits and let it walk about on our hands. It weed copiously all over the kitchen table when it came out of the box! You wouldn't think moths could hold that much liquid! Finally I took it out into the garden and let it climb onto a tree to finish sleeping. I'm hoping that as dusk fell it will have woken fully to fly free.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer Solstice

I didn't think we'd be able to celebrate the Solstice out of doors yesterday. The weather forecast was for yet more of this rain that we've had for a while - but we were lucky. Towards evening the heavy clouds thinned out and left us with a fine but breezy sky so we (all four of us!) went up the hill to the allotment carrying candles, fleeces and very importantly, beer!

The way I've spent most summer solstices in the past is in my garden at home, where I light candles as the sky begins to fade and while I'm waiting for the first star to appear in the sky I think about the year we've had. I remember the people I used to know who've gone from this planet and I turn my spirit outwards to all the people I love in the hope that there is some power in the human mind that can touch them even when I'm not with them. It's a very special time of year for me and although I've done the sunrise at Avebury thing with all the druids and the drumming, I find the solitude of the evening at midsummer in my own garden a more conducive channel for my energy. So that's what I did yesterday too, just me, well, me and my cat. My cat always comes into the circle of candles and sits with me. I'm sure it helps.

But before that, J and the boys helped to erect what is possibly the world's smallest and most recent standing stone next to the pond on the allotment! We'd found it some months previously under some brambles when we moved the compost bins at the bottom of the allotment and it was just the right shape for a teeny little monolith so I decided that midsummer day was an auspicious day to put it in place.

The hole was dug, the stone placed facing the sun as it sank behind the hill and we placed seven candles around it to celebrate the Solstice. Then we all drank beer. The boys showed signs of having humoured mummy enough so before they left I took them along to the end of the allotments where there is a wild area of large trees and bushes in which a fox has been seen with one cub this year. We crept as quietly as we could into the wild area but weren't lucky enough to see the foxes this time. I've seen adult foxes many times on the allotment but I'd love to see the cub.

The photos this time are of our new standing stone (!) and a pile of our broad beans on the kitchen table. I am immensely pleased with the beans this year, we won't get masses but since I planted them quite late because of squirrel damage to my first batch, they've done really well.
They taste good too. Now, mysteriously I seem to be typing when I could be weeding so it's time for me to go....

.....and a merry Solstice to you all!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fruit picking

Hello again. The country has been overwhelmed with floods, I was watching the TV news last night and they showed dramatic footage of people's houses and gardens with swirling brown floodwater racing through buildings and making rivers out of roads. There was obviously a lot of damage. I'm sure many promising vegetable gardens were washed away too. If it happened to you, you have my sympathy.

Here, it hasn't been so bad, There's been a lot of rain, more than enough to thoroughly water the allotment and wash out a local garden party, but not more than we can handle.

We went up to the allotment this morning in a break between the showers, sensibly clad in wellies and with a big umbrella. It was just nice to get a bit of fresh air and I wasn't really expecting to do much up there. However, the sun came out and it was really hot for a few minutes so we stayed and picked fruit. The gooseberries are ready so I'm picking them a punnet at a time and using them fresh. Last year I put far too much fruit in the freezer and some of it's still in there so I don't want to freeze any more just yet.

We picked strawberries and raspberries too and the first tiny picking of redcurrants. Now I have to think of creative ways to cook them! Some of the gooseberries have already appeared in the form of crumble for tonight's dinner, the strawberries and raspberries are in the fridge waiting for inspiration and I think the redcurrants may turn into a sauce to go with tomorrow's lamb. Sometimes it's hard to know what to do with all this fruit. Yesterday I made a cake with raspberries and cream (which the boys loved) and there's still some of that left! At this rate I shall get dreadfully fat.

While we were on the allotment we had a good look at the broad beans. J's always very pessimistic about our progress up there and he was making gloomy noises about the blackfly on the beans. I hope they'll be alright, there are lots of ladybirds chomping away on the blackfly so maybe we'll get some good beans in the end. We ate the first picking of them tonight, they were lovely, very tender and young. I cooked another batch of supermarket frozen beans as well and spooned them out into separate piles on our plates so we could see if there is a significant difference in taste or texture. (Not much, but ours were definitely better)

My family is quite used to experiments like this.

The weather forecast is quite reasonable for tomorrow so I hope I'll be able to do a bit of weeding before the bindweed outclimbs the runner beans. There's a bit of a competition going on between them at the moment and I think it's up to me to make sure the beans win.
Happy gardening

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A new beginning in the middle

Well, It's only taken about 14 years, but my allotment is finally looking really up together so I thought I'd start a blog to celebrate!

I took over a fairly run down allotment when my younger son was only about three, I remember he used to come up there with me while the older one was at school and we'd spend the odd hour, me pulling out couch grass and him poking mud with a stick, but for years it still looked very half hearted and our produce was very meagre. Well, you know how time just slips away and suddenly he's a great lad of sixteen who doesn't want anything to do with growing vegetables but the vegetables are finally showing promise....and as for the strawberries this year...yum!

I suppose I've started putting all that nurturing into my little patch of land now that the boys are growing up. The kids are reaping the benefits in other ways (like eating the strawberries)

My allotment is on a gentle slope overlooking the city. I've divided it up in different ways over the years but it seems to be settling down into a series of small beds, some permanent like the rhubarb and the artichokes, and some that follow a rotation of potatoes and beans and onions and brassicas in the time honoured way. I've also given over a small bed to flowers and I'm so pleased I decided to do that, it adds to the feeling of well-being I get from this plot of land. Vegetables are more purposeful than flowers, more business-like if you see what I mean so to sit in my garden chair under the big apple tree admiring the flowers is one of the most chilled out ways of spending my time that I ever get to do.

We (that's my husband and I) take quite a few photos up there so I'll see if I can put any of them into this page to make it look extra pretty! I'm new to this blog stuff.
Happy gardening (it's good for the soul)