Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Solstice stone

I took this just before sunrise on the winter solstice. The sky was clear, fresh snow covered the ground and the air was cold. It was beautiful.

There were fox footprints and bird footprints but I was the only human visitor so early.

Happy Solstice. The days get longer from now on.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Kelston Round Hill

This is Kelston Round Hill, clearly visible from my allotment, (although this isn't my photo) It's also clearly visible from absolutely everywhere else I go! Possibly it's following me around - well, not really.

Last night, J and I kipped on a friend's floor, after a Christmas meal out with the balloon syndicate. Where Ade lives is a real trek across the city from us but guess what greeted me when I looked out of his window this morning. Yup.

This afternoon the distant horizon was misty, so as I worked on the allotment, the hill was more of a ghostly presence than usual. It's funny though, I've climbed up onto it when walking the Cotswold Way out of Bath, and from there, Bristol itself looks pretty insignificant and as for the hill that's home to Kersteman Allotments, well, you can't even make it out. Just a distant blur.

Oh dear, I feel all insignificant myself now.
Happy gardening

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Broad bean planting

Here is the garlic, just beginning to sprout. Talking of sprouts, the sprouts are doing their sprouty thing too. They'll be ready for Christmas by the look of them. I've only got two sprout plants left now, which is probably enough.

This afternoon, hazy and sunny without any real chill to it, I dibbed little holes and popped in a packet of Aquadulce broad beans. I've just done some complicated sums (7x8) and decided that I've put in about 50. Why can't I remember my tables?

It'll be good if most of them come up but I've also got a similar amount in pots under a squirrel-proof bit of wire netting in the garden at home. The ground was overwhelmingly soggy so the poor little beans may get waterlogged. We do love broad beans though, so however many survive the winter probably won't be enough.

Walking round my allotment today, with a cup of tea steaming in my hand, I was able to take stock of jobs that need to be done soon. Because of the recent weeks of rain, the ground is sodden, but several of my mini-modules still need turning over and the weeds turfing out. The autumn raspberries will have to be cut down to ground level, one bed of unexpected marigolds can be moved to the flowerbed by the hut, some bolted pak choi can come out and I really should harvest the swedes. These don't seem to be getting any bigger so I think they've finished growing. If I leave them there, theyll probably rot. basically, the whole thing could do with a good tidy up. As always! A bit like my house too!

Happy gardening

Monday, November 30, 2009

Late pickings

I had half an hour today and for once it was the right half an hour, no downpour, no howling wind - I wasn't even supposed to be at work - just a nice, peaceful half hour to take stock of all the jobs I'll need to do when there's time and the right weather.

Amazingly, there's been no real damage, the hut is still upright, the bench wasn't, but was very easy to turn back up the right way. There was a lot of stray black plastic to gather up and stack back under the brambly bit at the bottom and there was even a small crop of veggies to take home. I photographed them on the bench in a delicious moment of sunshine, here they are, some leeks, parsnips, black kale and a little gem lettuce. Brilliant.

Happy gardening (when the weather lets you)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tidying up

We did a bit of a clear up this afternoon. It was lovely and sunny again, I even worked in a vest for a while, but the weatherman says it's really over now and winter is arriving tomorrow. It's been warm for so long that I can hardly believe it.

J did what was probably the last strim of the year, I planted the garlic and did a bit of digging. I also hauled out some useless brassicas that I'd put in without knowing what they were. They grew vast and stalky but stayed unidentified so we decided that they had to go. They'd been home to several million whitefly, who I evicted with great pleasure. They'll probably find my black kale now.

We went home (tired) with a bag of spinach, some pak choi, little gem lettuces and a handful of mint.

Happy gardening

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Apple Day

On Sunday we went to Horfield community orchard's "apple day", which turned out to be a delightful community event with morris dancers, apple tasting and hands-on demonstrations of juice making - cue for lots of enthusiastic youngsters having a lovely time chomping apples amongst the trees. Shame ours are too old and cool to enjoy this sort of thing at the moment. In fact, Roo was 19 yesterday (he tells me that his birthday is on the real apple day) and is more into late nights and partying. However, I believe that the things that we do with our kids when they are little are the seeds that will grow and put down roots for later on in their lives, and I hope that one day they'll be taking their own kids to run about the orchards on apple day too.

Happy gardening

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Change of photo

I've just had quite a different sort of haircut and really don't look much like the old photo anymore so I thought it was time for an update. I've been going blonder again too, mostly by design although it's much lighter than I intended because the sun has bleached my hair over the summer.

I'm planning to go to the allotment tomorrow morning. I'll be at work in the afternoon, but if there's another stunning blue and gold day tomorrow I can't think of a better way of spending the morning. It's been such a pleasure to be out doors this autumn, we've had one fabulous golden day after another. Just sitting on the bench with my face turned up to the sun and pottering around with a flask of tea is so lovely when its like this, that I'm spending as much time as I can doing just that.

I haven't mentioned vegetables, there'll have to be proper allotment talk next time, none of this rubbish about tea and haircuts.
Happy gardening

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The allotment goes to the farmers' market

Over the past week, we have all been carefully gathering our surplus produce and selecting spare jars of jams and pickles to put on today's stall at Redland farmers' market. There was a fine selection of fruit and vegetables but for me the most exciting thing was the appearance of some beautiful jars of honey from the beekeeper who keeps bees in the little wooded area at the end of the allotments. The bit my kids aways used to call "the wild woods" - just think, those bees have fed on our flowers!

The proceeds from the stall were going to a charity that aids disabled gardeners, and when I did my stint in the morning, the money tin already had quite a few notes in it. Marion (on the left of the photo) had organised the event and stayed all day, with a rota of assistants coming and going. It was a very sociable affair and actually more conducive to having a good chat with allotment neighbours than when you're in mid dig.

I nipped up to my own allotment this afternoon to water, it's still very dry after this lovely Indian summer of the last two weeks and it all needed a good soak. It was boiling hot and very hard work lugging the watering can up and down the beds so I was ready for a good soak myself when I got back home.

Happy gardening ( and oh!, the bliss of a hot shower afterwards!)

Monday, September 7, 2009

"Harvest Hats" event

Yesterday was the annual allotment tea, held as before on Cylla's beautifully eccentric plot. I'm afraid the photo I took of her manages to look like the chicken sculpture on her shed is balanced on her head, but hey, I've never claimed to be a good photographer, have I?

This year we had a talk on companion planting by organic horticulturalist, Tim Foster, shown taking second place behind the laden tea table. Again, not a deliberate composition! Tea and talk were both very much enjoyed by all.

J and I culled a couple of mini sunflowers from our allotment to decorate our hats and Lesley very
kindly recorded us for posterity. I had a bit of trouble with my sunflower, it kept falling down over one eye so as soon as we got home I unpinned it and put it in a jug with some others on the kitchen table. They look gorgeous.

Our contribution to the allotment tea were individual normandy apple tarts (I've now nearly finished the bottle of calvados we bought on holiday in Normandy in 1988, when I was pregnant with Edmund!) and individual plum tarts, made with honey baked plums. There was so much food that we all ended up bringing stuff home again, but I'm not complaining!

Happy gardening (and happy harvest)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Plum recovery

Well, the weird organic remedy for plum brown rot seems to have worked, we sprayed it on fairly liberally 3 or 4 times and the plum crop now looks pretty damn good as you can see in the picture.
So..the magic formula, as promised...

1/4 pint milk
teaspoon bicarb of soda
a few squirts Ecover washing up liquid or hand soap (I'm sure it doesn't have to be Ecover)
top up to roughly a pint in total with warm water

We're having to give the plums a good wash before eating them because sour milk and soap doesn't bring out the flavour as well as cream or custard but that's no big deal compared to losing all our lovely fruit.

I've even had enough already to make a couple of delicious helpings of "exploded plum surprise", a quick and easy recipe that J rather liked. Lovely served cold with a big spoonful of marscapone.

"Exploded plum surprise"
A dozen or so plums, halved and stoned
Runny hunny, as much as you want, really
Bung in a pyrex dish with a lid and microwave for slightly less time than you think it's going to take! Enjoy.

Happy gardening (especially when you get to enjoy the harvest)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Brown rot

This is brown rot according to the information J found on the internet. It rots ripening plums on the branch in a matter of hours. He's also found a recipe for a spray that may cure it. I bloody well hope it works, we've got loads of plums so it'd be a terrible shame to lose them all now. The spray sounds completely innocuous and contains just household ingredients such as milk and bicarbonate of soda so I find it hard to believe it'll be powerful enough to combat the rot. Might as well try though.

If it works, I'll put the recipe on here in case I need it again.
Ho hum.
Happy gardening

Monday, July 20, 2009


Doesn't he look pleased with himself!

When we got back from our holiday there was a lot to do in the way of picking. The redcurrants (only some in the picture, not all) had got to that very overripe, deep red - verging on dropping off the branches stage that meant we had to harvest the lot all at once. J kindly did it, hence the pic.

The redcurrants are being made into jelly in 3lb batches. The jelly recipe is very simple, just a lb of sugar to every pint of redcurrant juice. Yesterday I tried to make more than that in one go but my pressure cooker overflowed at one point so to keep it less messy I'm going back to just 3lbs at once. I would have made a slightly posher recipe that adds port at the last minute but unfortunately it seems that the port that I knew was in the cupboard had mysteriously disappeared by the time I looked for it. Funny that. J says it must have evaporated. Anyway, there's an off license at the end of the road so I think maybe the person who evaporated it should nip down and get a bottle while I start off the next batch!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hurry up beans

Midsummer already. Hurry up beans - I'm sure they're slower than usual in growing up their poles. It hasn't been reliably warm yet this year and it's definitely been dry. I expect that's why they're still sitting there at the bottom of the poles looking like this.

However, I spent all day yesterday feeding, watering and transplanting and although I say it myself, it's looking great up there. The broad beans are fantastic, the artichoke is producing more tender young globes than we can eat, the spinach beet has been delicious and the potatoes and garlic are almost ready. I'm just waiting for the beans to climb up their poles before I can say it's truly summer.

So, with the usual silly timing, instead of sitting back and enjoying all this lovely summer produce and spending time just chilling with a beer and a barbecue, what do we do? Yes, we pack up the camper and head off into the sunset on our holiday and come back just in time to start all the weeding and strimming again. Nuts, really.

Happy gardening (and happy holidays)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

So far, so good

All this fecundity! I've been far too busy planting, weeding, and watering my allotment to have any time left over to write about it. It's all looking damned peachy out there at the moment.

I think the modular system has been really successful in providing small, intensive growing areas that are easy to maintain. Taken as a whole, the plot resembles a patchwork quilt of these little modules with their varying vegetable occupants, but the one quality they share is that so far, touch wood and all that, all the modules are producing abundant, healthy plants.

So far this year we've already cropped radishes, pak choi, lettuces, rocket, spring onions, turnips, spinach beet, spring greens, broad beans and a couple of strawberries. Oh, and there was a fine crop of rhubarb earlier on. I forced it under a broken incinerator and the stalks were particularly tender and pink.

We're not remotely self sufficient, but we certainly grow enough to make a huge difference to the quality of what we eat because it doesn't come any fresher than this, does it?

Happy gardening

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


It looks as though the bug spray's worked. Now I feel bad that I didn't use an organic one, but previous experience has been that organic pest spray is pretty ineffective. This aphid infestation was really serious, I didn't feel as though I had time to experiment with gentle pest control - I had to nuke them before they killed all my plums. However, now that my (shrivelled) leaves appear to be only harbouring dead aphids, I am feeling ashamed that I turned to chemical warefare so easily.

It's difficult to know where to draw the line. Normally, I use natural pest control, with a bit of help from washing up liquid sprayed onto persistant bugs such as black fly on the beans, I buy organic peat free compost as an addition to home made, I get my seeds from an organic supplier but the one thing I've never been able to do without is blue metaldehyde based slug pellets. We'd never have any produce if I didn't. So, where does that leave me now? A not very organic gardener. With organic intentions that got washed away with the first onset of a problem.

It's very easy to sit in judgement of the agrochemical industry but at the moment I'm uncomfortably grateful to it.

Happy gardening, whether you're deep dyed green or wishy washy green, like me.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Plum under attack

Only a week or so ago I was feeling really pleased with the plum tree's progress this year. Tons of blossom, all looking very healthy and lots and lots of tiny new fruits.

This week we have had a dramatic aphid attack, the leaves have curled over on themselves and the undersides are quite covered in the wretched things.

I've sprayed the leaves as much as I can with bug spray. It's very difficult because of course the leaves are all curly now but I'm hoping I've caught it before all the sap gets sucked out of the tree. I don't want the tree to lose all the young fruit.

Goodness, gardening is such a mixture of elation and disappointment, just like the rest of life!

Happy gardening (bug free, I hope)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why a May Day celebration?

The 1st of May. So we all have a day off work and celebrate with a barbecue and don't stop to remember that the holiday is really about the coming of summer and fertilty for the crops. It's not a surprise that so many of the old customs and festivals are connected with fertilty, our ancestors depended on the land or the hunt for their survival.

I believe modern mankind has almost forgotten that we still depend on growing crops and tending animals. It's as simple as that.

This Beltane I'll be raising a glass to the smallholders, the beekeepers, the gardeners and allotment holders, all the lovely low impact dippy hippies of the world, anyone, in fact, who is quietly living in a responsible way. Stick together guys, we need you.

Happy gardening

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Walking the plank

The fruit cage is in a bit of a mess. The grass has become entangled in the netting, making it very difficult to strim around the base of the cage. Consequently it's been cut with hand shears but some roots have grown through the netting and we've never dealt with it properly until last week. We unpicked all the roots, rolled the netting up and are in the process of slotting planks into the base to make a strimmer proof edge. There were a few old planks at the allotment that we'd started to use but yesterday, on the way to the bread shop, J noticed a skip with a pile of very long planks resting against it outside neighbour Bill's house. Last night we walked the plank (well, two planks) up to the allotment. They were about sixteen feet long so there was a long gap between us and we had to shout to hear each other speak. Crossing the road was interesting. However, we made it, and when we got there we headed straight for the fruit cage and the planks turned out to be an exact fit. Amazing! J's up there now, doing a quick bit of plank installation while I write this. What a brilliant find. Thanks Bill!

Happy gardening

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Potatoes in the news

I've just got back from planting some Maris Piper potatoes in rather an experimental way. I read somewhere recently that it helps keep the potatoes free from slugs (and we grow a lot of slugs) if you line the trench or hole with newspaper. So I've just put six nicely chitted seed potatoes into their bed with the travel section of last weekend's Guardian. I hope they don't decide to go off somewhere exotic.

Six potatoes may not seem many but there's another twelve waiting at home and the salad potatoes (Charlottes this year) are going into those large pop up bags or any other container I happen to have free. I started one bag off at the weekend and it will just sit in our tiny garden. The growing plants need more attention in containers, but they're also more likely to get it, being right outside the back door.

Happy gardening

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Playpen

Well, here is J in his wonderful construction which we have immediately nicknamed the playpen (you can see why, can't you?) but it's really going to be a protective cage around the sweetcorn (that I wasn't going to bother with this year) I definitely will grow some now, if only to see how high badgers can jump. I'll have to stake the allotment out at night and watch out for the pesky varmints giving each other a leg up to climb over the top and get at our sweetcorn. This'll make it difficult anyway.

It's sort of recycled too because the wood came from a futon that Roo broke, although we bought the wire netting. Oddly enough it's the second futon that the dear boy's broken. Lovely lad, just a bit hard on futons.

It's the end of a fabulous day spent doing various gardening things, planting seeds at home this morning and thwacking great lumps of earth around with a spade this afternoon at the allotment. J even managed to get a balloon flight in this morning. Whoopee, I think it could be spring!

Happy Spring gardening (it'll probably snow again now!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Plan 2009

This image may not work - I'm not getting a preview of it on my page. If it works when I post it, this is the plan for the allotment this year. Maybe there's some kind of discrepancy between OpenOffice and Blogger because all I can see at the moment is six lines of weird code.

If the plan is visible, you should see a long, thin, (16ft by 100ft) plot with the various beds and permanent features marked on it. I'm pencilling in the veggies as I plant them. Actually, I've managed to get mud on it already too. Yesterday's additions were as many of my broad bean plants that I could carry to the allotment in three trips. It's now blowing a gale again so I'm worried that they'll have snapped their poor little stems. The plants from the second sowing will be ok, they're a sensible height but the first ones were put into pots on November 3rd and they were at least eight inches high and spindly. By the time I left they were wearing a fleece as protection (me too!) but it wasn't pegged down very well so I'll be up there again tomorrow to check on them. In my fleece, obviously. Lets hope the beans are still wearing theirs.

Happy gardening

Monday, March 9, 2009

The ongoing plan

Oh dear, such a long time since I wrote anything here and so much has been happening. In real life as well as on the allotment. However, this blog isn't about the complications of my life (thank goodness) so I'm just briefly going to record some projects we've got going.

1) The pond - part way through Febuary I noticed a rip in the black plastic and rather than heave all the occupants and plants out to replace the liner, we've done a stunning "mend" with off cuts of plastic, glue, waterproof tape and gaffer tape. Seems ok so far and we were just in time for the frogspawn. Whew. It meant I got round to having a bit of a pond clear out too which was never going to happen if it was just a job on a list

2) The plan. We've drawn up a neat little computerised A4 sheet showing all the beds and the idea is that I fill them in as I plant stuff. So far, onion sets and parsnips but I'm about to go shopping in a minute for red onion sets (red baron if possible) I haven't been able to source any locally yet.

3) More of the plan. I've divided most of my beds into four rough quarters and the intention is to plant in blocks this year and cover each block with netting. We've got wire netting to make a moveable cage (like a guinea pig run) and even bought some of that blue plastic plumbing hosepipe to make hoops. The first lot of hoops are on the sofa in the dining room at the moment as our first attempt yesterday to plant out and net off broad beans was a bit of a wash out. And a wind out. If I'd planted them yesterday they'd be half way to central Europe by now.

Happy gardening
So....not a lot of blogging, but thankfully a bit of time well spent.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My special chill-out place

I wasn't tempted to sit down! I did spend ages taking photos though – everything looked so perfect and pure and the light was stunning. I think I was the only person who had been on the allotment, but mine weren't the only footprints. The animal tracks crossed and re-crossed everywhere I looked. The bigger ones were fox tracks and there were lots of bird footprints too. I followed the path to the woods and stood for a while watching a fox, waiting to take his picture when he moved away from the bushes but my camera timed out and switched off with a whirring sound so he melted away into the undergrowth. Even so, we were close enough to have made eye contact.

The snow will be brief here. This transformation of the landscape is fleeting. I feel priveleged to have seen the snow work its magic on my familiar allotment.

Happy gardening – enjoy the snow

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Pruning with the ancient gods

To successfully prune an old apple tree you must first remove any diseased or dead wood, any branches that cross over each other and also any that have sprouted up much higher than you want the tree to go. Then you should look at the shape of the tree, taking care to leave a cup shape of branches with an open centre. Only after this should you begin to prune the twigs by cutting the leading twig on each branch back by about a third to a good bud and the other twigs back by two thirds. That's what my book says, anyway. The reality is a bit more hit and miss with some branches too high for me to reach so they got missed out, and some twigs just too confusing for proper pruning so they mostly got all chopped off. However, today is Imbolc, a good day for tending my tree for the coming year, so to make up for the haphazard saw work I have tied ribbons to some of its branches and cast its fate to the old gods of the wildwood. Safer hands than mine!

Happy gardening and light a candle for Imbolc tonight

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Moving rhubarb

The black plastic covers the holes where I've taken out the later cropping of my two rhubarbs, hopefully not killing it in the process. It's gone a few yards away in the narrow strip to the right of the tree.

It was amazing to be able to do anything at all today. I only went to see if we still had a hut or the cloches after the gales.

The hut's still there, one cloche is ok, but I couldn't see the other one. Hardly anything to clear up really. Oh, and the old incinerator I was using to force the other rhubarb had blown quite a long way away, but I still found it.

The plan is (there's always a plan) to plant potatoes where the black plastic is. It's a flowerbed that I've been clearing over the winter and the ground is very uneven and full of weeds so I'll mulch it with some more plastic and when the weeds have gone, potatoes will help the soil return to a more usable vegetable bed. The flowers are all being popped into odd places where they won't take up so much space.

Happy gardening (and planning ahead)

Friday, January 16, 2009


As you can see I've been messing about with the blog. I love the moon phases gadget and I'm definitely keeping that one, but the cat may have to go! |It's kind of fun, but I can see it'll end up being annoying after a while. I wanted to put a playlist in as well but Roo (trainee computer nerd) says websites that start playing music at you as soon as the page loads are really annoying too. I suppose that's true but it must depend on whether you find one with music that you like, doesn't it?

What I really want to do is change the background. I want to keep it green, but with a pattern of oak leaves printed down the side borders, and I haven't a clue how to do it. Anybody know?

Happy blogging

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Temporary hibernation of gardener

Brr. No photo today. It's been a lovely, lovely day but too cold to be outside. I seem to be one day behind at the moment - I mean I'm updating the blog a day after whatever it is I'm writing about. I must be all slowed down because of the cold. Heaven knows, I'm finding it hard to get up in the mornings, it doesn't seem natural to crawl out from under a warm duvet before it gets light. I can really identify with all hibernating creatures right now. My cat's doing it too. And as for the kids...

Anyway, yesterday I took the opportunity to put some more broad beans seeds in pots. I'd had to wait for the compost to thaw enough to fill the pots, it's been solid for ages. The previous sowing has grown to about 3 or 4 inches high so I've moved it to hide from squirrels and frost under some fleece in the front garden. Hopefully, I'll have some successional croppings of beans later on in the year if they survive.

happy gardening

Friday, January 2, 2009

Cold winter days

Happy new year to anyone who looks at this blog. The photo was taken yesterday (new year's day) and the happy smile is because I was well wrapped up against the cold. The temperature struggled to get above freezing as it has done for many days so the warm coat and the fab hippy hat (Christmas present) were much needed.

The pond was thick with ice and the ground solid. I managed to dig out some leeks and parsnips but didn't hang around for long, just went home to make soup.

Happy gardening for 2009