Sunday, 26 April 2015

Water well...

 Our allotment has no water and in this recent beautiful weather (that I will not complain about) the soil is starting to crack like the desert, of course the bindweed doesn't seem to mind.

 It's a very new site, half of it is still being developed from an old council nursery site that was abandoned years ago under what is called an 'Urban Nature Project'. It's a lovely idea and I feel very lucky to have my little slice of it in the form of my allotment plot but the lack of water is going to be hard to cope with if they can't sort it out soon.

Apparently they took a while to even find where the water main was and (rumour has it) found it by a digger accidently putting holes in it and flooding the nearby golf way of finding it I guess:) So we ask the man in the digger (a different digger) who is excavating the ground for the other new allotments and he shrugs...I email the lady at the council and she is helpful but diplomatic. We have no idea when we will have water on the site, the lovely brand new taps remain useful only for hanging our coats on:)

We have been using a beautiful old 'well' that used to supply the water to the monks at the nearby Abbey years ago, I don't know how true that is but I love the picture it conjures up of the monks in their robes trouping down to collect their water. It's not a Jack and Jill well, there is no bucket that plunges down into a bottomless hole. It is just a very simple trough fed by a spring that the Bluebells seem to appreciate. It is enough for now and I quite like the connection to the history of the place that using it is giving me. Perhaps, I should don a hooded monks robe and go the whole way...perhaps not, I'd just look like Yoda with a bucket...not really a good look for anyone!

 Besides this is England and as we all will fact is that a cloud?

Friday, 24 April 2015

Seedling worries...

It's madness but here I am a grown woman on my hands and knees looking for a sign that I got it right and planting my potatoes in the pouring rain wasn't such a terrible mistake. And there it is...tiny but definitely there, those first little shoots! Is it wrong to dance a little? think the man walking his dog passed at the time thought so:)

 I've watched all 3 of my sons take those first steps, that grin of triumph as they stagger/fall towards you, the knowledge that from now on it is a steady race away from babyhood. Ok, so I would never phone family to announce the sign of those little green shoots as I would have for those first steps, I'm really not sure that they would completely understand my excitement though they all love me enough to humour me;) But it's a similar joy of something that you are innately proud of, I managed to plant something well enough for it to grow (I'm secretly applauding myself). Please don't burst my bubble by telling me that potatoes would grow through concrete if given half a chance...ignorance is soil isn't far off concrete anyway so I suspect the truth really:)

I've finally let the baby artichokes that I grew from seed last year leave the safety of their pots and have planted them out on the allotment, they look very tiny and vulnerable (even with the posh copper labels I made them). I can only hope that the slugs give them a chance, though slugs aren't known for their mercy, I will scatter the crushed egg shells and hope.  Only 4 of my seedlings survived the winter and I felt a sense of loss every time one of them keeled over, I daren't say how many I started out with! 

My cheap plastic green house is full of little seedlings waiting for their chance out in the big bad world of the allotment. They all look so healthy and complete at the moment...not an aphid, caterpillar or hole to spoil them. The mother in me makes me nervous to let them leave 'home'. Two of my sons have left home now, I have sobbed in their empty bedrooms...they must never know, embarrassing mother. It is ridiculous to compare the two (I will not cry for seedlings) but there is a similar feeling of fear for them and excitement at what they will become...have I given them enough of a start for them to grow and thrive? In my sons cases, so far so good thankfully, as for my new venture into growing plants from seed, who knows?

I've seen a book that has just been published that I would really like to read called The Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson. I want to learn about seeds, not so much how to grow them as just about them and this looks like a good place to start. Seeds fascinate me, how something so unassuming, in some cases no more than dust (the horror of sowing thyme!) can grow into something that can ultimately feed you is amazing. Perhaps learning about them right from their very beginnings will help me to understand how better to get them to their end. Hopefully, I can learn more from this book about seeds and find it more useful/enjoyable than any of the books I read on child development and parenting as my boys grew up. Most of them ended up in a frustrated pile in the corner...better clear them away to make room...I want to learn Latin too;)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Asparagus hopes and quotes...

Wow asparagus looks really odd when it arrives in the post. I'm trying to think of something other than alien to describe it but the individual crowns really do look like some sort of strange little creature, H.R. Giger must have had them dotted around his studio for inspiration!

 I've bought 18, 1 year old crowns, 6 each of Guelph Millennium, Mondeo and Gijnlim (I wish they had names I could pronounce) from Pomona Fruits and they arrived in a padded envelope all carefully folded up and labeled. I didn't expect them to come as quickly as they have, they've caught me a bit unprepared. I carefully unfolded them and read the instructions as to what to do with them until I can plant them. I now have 18 strange little creatures tucked into a tray of damp potting compost, waiting for me to get my act together (or perhaps Sigourney in her boiler suit!)

The bed I'm wanting to put them in isn't quite ready... well as it's just full of big lumps of near solid clay at the moment I'd say I'm quite a way off yet! The shed building and Easter sort of took priority, I know it's an excuse but I'm sticking to it:)  I have added bags of manure but it still looks pretty heavy to me, it feels pretty heavy when I'm digging it over too!

I watched Monty Don on Gardeners' World the other night making his asparagus bed and the one thing I can remember him saying is drainage is the key. Who am I to doubt Monty Don so drainage it is then! I rushed off and bought bags of sand and gravel in an attempt to turn clay into the perfect asparagus soil. I'm really hoping it won't take a miracle and that I will one day have the healthy bed of asparagus that I dream about. Perhaps I should worry about dreaming about asparagus but it's better than dreaming about being chased by polar bears....oh, that's a whole other story!

''So home, and having brought home with me from Fenchurch Street a hundred of sparrowgrass, cost 18d. We had them and a little bit of salmon, which my wife had a mind to, cost 3s. So to supper, and my pain being somewhat better in my throat, we to bed.''

(Saturday 20 April Samuel Pepys)**

This quote really made me smile...I'm easily amused! I hope they had guests because I'm not sure I could eat that much asparagus, as much as I love it! Was it the sparrowgrass that made his throat better I wonder? I know they believed it had healing powers.  I will think of my asparagus as 'sparrowgrass' from now mother's nickname when she was a child was 'sparrow' apparently, I like the tentitive link it gives me to her.

**Pepys' diary entry Saturday 20th April

And this weekend, finally I've managed this....

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

To the plot and back...

I have a shed, at last my own shed! (small but perfect for me) I know for most people a shed isn't the start of a promising story but for me it's the start of being able to walk more often to the allotment. When I walk, I think and (some of, thankfully not all) my thoughts end up being written in some form or other.  

So for me, my little shed is the start of a story as well as being the place where my bulky, awkward gardening tools can live, no more fighting to get the hoe in the car...I can leave the car at home. I can walk, think and write all the way to the plot an back:)

My walk to the allotment is stupidly beautiful, the lovely weather we've been having recently has helped too, somehow the sun just makes everything seem better. The walk has it all... woods, a country lane (I guess not strictly a 'country' lane) an ancient abbey, golf courses (they are better to look at than the average football field...if you're not actually into sport that is!) with a view of moorland in the distance, more woods, wildlife ponds which are bubbling with frog and toad spawn at the moment I noticed...slugs take note:) There is also a field of deer, a stag escaped from there today apparently,  my walk has the potential for wildlife drama too! Rutting season is over isn't it? don't really want to come between a rutting stag and his harem:) 

The supermarkets, car garages and the busy roads in between are just there to remind me that I do actually live in a city, but if I walk really fast through those bits I can get back to my country day dreaming. Daft dog is pretty happy too:)  

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Making labels...and mess

I wanted some really nice looking plant markers, I know how silly that sounds, plant markers should just be practical surely? No I want practical and pretty. It gave me an excuse to trawl through Pinterest, not that I  ever need an excuse really. There really are some very creative people out there, so I've 'borrowed' some ideas and played about with them...well simplified I mean;)

I want to mark the different varieties of potato that I'm planting out on the plot as well as all the other veg and fruit that will eventually join them out there. I've just got some asparagus crowns through the post so I can label them up too, if I can fit the name Guelph Millennium onto one stick!

I have been using large lollipop sticks and I had some letter stamps from a previous trip I took into crafty land, can't honestly remember what that was but I know a craft fair was involved. Most importantly I got myself some varnish that should, fingers crossed, help make them survive the great outdoors.

Small boy got involved as soon as he saw it had potential for mess too...we had a lovely morning, though I could have done without the black handprints that appeared all over the kitchen!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Broody hens...towering beans...

Betty would make a brilliant mother, I only wish I could let her become one but I really can't have any more hens in the garden, even cute fluffy chicks. I'm also pretty sure biology is against us...there is no way I could have a cockerel. Chris' uncle won't, no actually just can't bring himself to tell us what happened to the cockerel they unwittingly ended up with in their back garden flock...he's still too traumatised by it. So absolutely no chance lady I'm sorry.

 So there she is driven purely by her hormones and instinct, she will sit on this empty nest in her broody state until her imaginary eggs are hatched. I know you are supposed to try to snap them out of their broodiness, there are all manner of methods suggested when you look. One of my go to sites for all things hens is, Lisa Steele's Fresh Eggs Daily, it's a great site with really good advice and also hen recipes... and that's recipes 'for' hens...yes you really can cook for hens:) pretty sure there's some strange irony there!

 Anyway, I have read how to break the broody's all a little barbaric for I just haven't the heart to do it to her. She gets stressed enough when I lift her off the nest just to make sure she eats and drinks, she chunters continuously and isn't happy til she's back in place. There must be something about the sound she makes that make the other 2 hens very unhappy with her too. Normally they all get along fine, the pecking order is established, there isn't any fighting until one of them goes broody, the others just turn on them and are merciless with their beaks til the poor bird is back on her nest, Betty gets the worst treatment though. I have to keep an eye on them when they are like this so no blood is drawn, hens are funny beasts, apparently they go mad at the sight of blood..I have a spray just incase that acts as an antiseptic and also dyes the wound purple...I really hope I never have to use it, purple hens would just look silly!

She has stopped laying and her wattle and comb are slowly losing their redness. Quite honestly I don't mind her not laying for awhile, if she's happy just sitting there who am I to mess with her and nature? A hen growling at you is trying to tell you something...don't mess with female hormones!

 Lisa Steele says it is bad for a hens health to allow her to continue to be broody and 'contagious' to the others and she is by far a more experienced hen owner than me (like Buzz Aldrin v Buzz Lightyear) but I'm just not hard enough.

 I make sure that they eat and drink and aren't bothered by the other hens whilst they do and they all came out of their broody states last year without any ill effects that I could see. And yes they all went through it one after the other so in some respects it is contagious or perhaps just inevitable. Perhaps if I had a bigger flock or was very reliant on their eggs I would be more inclined to try to stop them going broody, or if she went on too long. It is my own fault for choosing a breed known for broody behaviour, some breeds aren't quite so hormonally driven. A lesson in hens that I have learnt a little late...

Meanwhile back in the house the beans are telling me something completely different...'get us out of here...we're going for the sky and nothing is going to stop us!' Except frost I should remind them. I keep getting lulled by the occasional beautiful warm sunny day and then like what happened the other day we have such a hail shower that it settles like snow. Not good for young mollycoddled beans so I have moved them to the half way house. Actually one of those cheap plastic greenhouses that does the job for now until my dreams of a proper grown up greenhouse come true. 

When the shed gets put up at the allotment I'm planning to make some cold frames to go along its sides which should be another answer to the problem of what I do with all these seedlings I've got scattered around the house at the moment! Well when I say I will make some cold frames, I can see Chris roll his eyes and reach for his drill...I hope:)  

Saturday, 4 April 2015

A gooseberry named Careless...

The shed arrived yesterday!...yipee! We didn't have enough time to put it up though sadly. Chris for some reason thought we'd need longer than an hour...can't think why we always manage to get our massive tent up together without too many problems/arguments/tears/blood...a shed can't be that much harder can it? 

But anyway we had a free day today so it seemed sensible to give it a whole day and not rush it, but as all great British plans we got well and truly rained off. I think we could have bared the rain but small boy in rain on an allotment that turns into a slippery mud slide was just an ask too far. So my little shed is lying gracelessly under tarpaulin til we get a chance to to put it up. It will have to wait til after the Easter weekend now because we have family coming and easter hunts to organise, the house is awash with chocolate:)

Yesterday with the time I did have with the sun shining brightly (ha) I watched a real life buzzard flying over the allotment which I got almost as excited about as the crows that were dive bombing it. Funny, that as beautiful and amazing as I found it to see, all the poor crows saw was big trouble.

When I stopped being all David Attenborough I also managed to plant my strawberry plants that I bought last year for the bargain price of 50p a plant. I got a few different varieties that cover the early, mid and late fruiting period but then I started to wonder about pollination, like you do and got a little puzzled. If a bee (hopefully a few) comes along and pollinates one plant then moves onto the next which is a different variety do the runners from that parent plant then become a mix of the 2? Will it still be an 'Alice' or will it be a 'Honeoye-Alice' (or whatever combination) will I have confused strawberries? Does it really matter as long as the bees come along and do their thing and we get strawberries at all? Apart from making nonsense of spending quite a long time (almost an embarrassing amount of time) searching through the sea of strawberries to get the mix of plants I have. Oh I have so much too learn!

I also planted a gooseberry bush that I bought from my local city farm which has a great little garden centre (as well as a fantastic cafe!) I've been going to Heeley city farm for years, first when my big boys were young and now with small boy, the only difference being middle boy was terrified of the pigs, small boy loves them with a passion. It is a true test of parenting quite how long you can actually stand and stare at a pig before you have to resort to cafe cake bribery:)  

I still have a bay tree that I bought from the the farm when my eldest boy was tiny, it has moved (in its large pot) with us 3 times now and is still a beautiful and useful tree all these years later. I don't know if the little gooseberry will last as long as that but it is called 'Careless' and how could I resist a plant with a name like that? I don't even like gooseberries...well I am trying to retrain my taste-buds, I don't think I like gooseberries but I've never had my own gooseberries. I quite fancy getting a red variety at some point, somehow red fruit appeals more to me. But for now a gooseberry named Careless and a strawberry like Alice will do me fine:)

Right better get those eggs hidden before I'm tempted to eat them all myself...