Browsing Posts published in August, 2010

Well you have!

One of the new PIC16F877A's

One of the new PIC16F877A's

After all the circuit board building of last week, I couldn’t get it to program.  The PIC16F877A was totally ‘dead’.

Everything I tried threw up an error, and I was completely stumped.

Until I realised that I’d wired the header lead from the programmer to the new board incorrectly.  What should have been the five volt supply pin on the PIC was actually getting over 12 volts as it tried to program.

Whoops!  Even PIC’s, hardy as they are won’t tolerate that kind of behaviour!

So, I got on The ‘Net, onto the Microchip site, and completely free of charge, they sent me two more from Malaysia no less, within 5 working days!

So, the day after tomorrow (…for Thursday is a ‘Plot Day’, obviously…), I plan to spend as much time as possible working on the new circuit.

And the LED will flash!

More Friday, I feel…

Before I start, a little disclaimer:-

This little tale is not really about ‘Zen’.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books on this massive and worthwhile subject, and I am in no way qualified at all to speak about it with any kind of authority whatsoever.

I’m not really qualified to talk about weeding either, but there you go…

So, it being a Wednesday and all, it was a Plot Afternoon.

Ian and myself (no relation) arrived early -before 11.00am; just in time for Diane to pick us up to visit another allotment scheme who were having a ‘bit of a bash’ over at their allotments and had invited us over.

Like ‘LEAF’, their scheme is run for and by volunteers, some with special needs, and I must say, they run it in a pretty similar way to ours, with the exception being that each volunteer can have their ‘own’ growing space of a bed in which to plant what they like.

We have considered this in the past but always rejected it, believing it would lead to seemingly every bed having the same produce growing in it.  This appeared to be the case at their plots, but I never really had chance to sit down and chat with the organisers -there were always too many people around demanding their attention!

Down there, they have only three plots, but they have got a couple of poly tunnels (…which both myself and Ian (no relation) were dead envious of!..), and one of them had some pretty decent-looking tomatillos in.  A few of the fruits had been carelessly knocked to the ground, so when no-one was looking, I swiftly pocketed one as they seem to be a slightly different variety to ours.  …Next year…

We arrived back at our Plots before 1.00pm, just in time for our first volunteers to show up, and Diane was kept very busy welcoming them and of course making the obligatory cups of tea.

Meanwhile, Ian and myself (no relation) went about our allotted tasks.

These included harvesting a row and a bit of potatoes (…some ‘salad’ types i.e. very small, some a fairly decent size…), then while Ian picked beans (…there are always beans to pick at this time of year!..) for the ‘stew’ for later, I re-dug the potato bed we had just dug over -to get any straggling weeds out, and to get the potatoes that we missed.

Ian went up to the metal shed to see to the stew, while I looked round to see what I could do next.

Well, it didn’t take long to see that while we have loads of stuff planted down in the bottom ‘Demonstration Plot’, we also have loads of unwanted weeds.

Now, as Ripley mentioned the other day, most people don’t like weeding.  They’d much rather do the ‘sexier’ things like planting or harvesting.  Me?  Well, I don’t mind either way, and now I’m getting into it, an hour ‘spent on my knees’ (…on a ‘Prayer Mat’, no less!..) seems to do me the world of good.

Winter greens before weeding.

Winter greens before weeding.

At first, I put the ‘prayer mat’ down in my selected spot, flex my knuckles, then kneel, as if in prayer.  When my knees have stopped singing ‘Ave Maria’ in protest, I slowly look around to select my first target.  I always pick the biggest, fattest looking weed within reach, and in just pulling this, I quickly forget my aching joints, and instead concentrate on where to pull the next one from.

As I pull the weeds, it becomes ‘automatic’.  I spot a likely candidate, decide whether it needs the hand fork to pull it, check it for spikey bits (…one got me today, but I’ll know for next time…), then gently, oh so gently give it at tug.

The feeling as the earth falls away from the roots (…remember last year, these beds got major attention, so the earth is ‘light’ and ‘fluffy’…) and I have it in my grasp as I put it into the weed bucket, well, its difficult to describe.

Winter greens after weeding.

Winter greens after weeding.

There, where there was a weed is now bare earth, and in just a few moments more, there’ll be some more bare earth as I pull more and more.

In the photo above, you can see the end of the first bed before I weeded it, then this second photo of the whole bed about a half hour later, after it was done.

Extremely satisfying!

While I was down there, Diane came down with a load of volunteers to pull onions and shallots as Matt continued where Ian had left off, unearthing the potatoes.

Pulling onions, shallots and potatoes.

Pulling onions, shallots and potatoes.

As you can see here, we had a few children down -it being the summer holidays and all- and we encourage them to help us and see how its all done as much as possible.

Some may argue that they only ‘get in the way’, and maybe the very youngs ones sometimes do a little, but we think its vitally important that our kids learn and appreciate that food doesn’t just ‘Come From Sainsbury’s’, washed, wrapped and neatly presented.

Okay, they may go home ‘as scruffy as street urchins’, but everyone has a washing machine, and no-one comes in good clothes.  We figure its better than being sat at home playing video games!

Elsewhere on The Plots, things are growing apace!

Tomatillos in our new greenhouse.

Tomatillos in our new greenhouse.

In the new greenhouse, the tomatillos are picking up speed in their ‘race for the roof’.  Here, you can see some of the lower ‘pods’ have formed.

At the moment, these appear to be empty, but in a few weeks, the bottoms will split, and inside each of them will be a fully ripe and gorgeous tomatillo.  And we can’t wait!

Our ‘Top Chefs’ are waiting in the wings after scouring The ‘Net for recipes from chutneys to dips.

The tops of the tomatillo plants.

The tops of the tomatillo plants.

Here is a shot of the tops of the tomatillo plants (…there are only two in this greenhouse!..), and if you click on the photo a couple of times, you can clearly see all the flowers, each one hoping to become a tomatillo.

If you turn through 90 degrees clockwise in the greenhouse, you will see this:-

Onions and garlic, drying out after picking.

Onions and garlic, drying out after picking.

These are just some of the onions and garlic that we’ve harvested over the last couple of weeks or so.

We put them into these bread crates for a final ‘dry’ before we hang them over the next few days.  Traditionally, they’d be left on the ground where they’d been grown, but what with food prices rising, we don’t want anyone to think that they’re ‘spare’ and not needed.  Yes they are!  These will be in our ‘Saturday Soups’ for hopefully months to come!

[…As a side note, Diane gave me some ‘homework’ the other day to see how to ‘properly’ hang onions and garlic, and sure enough, I found a series of photos on ‘UTube’ showing exactly what to do.  It looks dead easy, but Diane wants a bit of a practise before showing volunteers how its done…]

...And the sweetcorn weeded.

...And the sweetcorn weeded.

Very soon, all the onions and garlic had been harvested for today, so I was once again left on my own, patiently weeding, when seemingly all of a sudden, Ian (no relation) came down to say that ‘Dinner was served!’

And what a dinner it was!  He’d made some steak and kidney stew, intending it for just us and Diane, but seeing as all these volunteers had turned up, it would be selfish to have it all to ourselves.

What to do with enough stew for four (…Of course, Jon from further down the site would be invited!..) when fifteen hungry people turn up?!

Whack it full of freshly-picked vegetables, thats what!

So, while I’d been quietly weeding and ‘kind of’ achieving something near Zen, or thereabouts, Ian had been busy picking not only beans, but he’d selected a couple of fresh onions and some of the smaller ‘salad’ potatoes we’d dug up earlier.  Into the stew it all went.

So we all sat down to the meal and for me, this is always one of the best parts of a session.

We met under the gazebo by the metal shed, and quite naturally we discussed a whole range of topics from who’s done what to who’s doing what and who plans to do what.

Then came our kids favourite part: Dessert!

Ian had ‘cheated’ somewhat and bought in an apple and strawberry tart, but of course this was topped off with freshly-picked blackberries.  And there’s still seemingly thousands left to pick tomorrow!

When the meal was over, people started to drift off, much as they tend to on a Saturday, and Ian and myself (no relation) went back down to the bottom plot to pick up our tools, prayer mats and coats.

Another marvellous day, and we can hope for another tomorrow as Ian and myself (no relation) hope to get there early to carry on more ‘Zen Weeding’.

Happy, summer days.

Reaping and sowing. 20/08/10

Today was quite a weird day, all told.  Weird, but very good.

It started off pretty slowly and easily with Diane arriving for just after ten o’clock.  Nick wasn’t far behind, and while she opened the greenhouses, Nick opened up the metal shed and started getting stuff out ready for the volunteers.  Well, that’s what he said, but of course, it was only to be able to get to The Magic Kettle to make the first cup of tea.

Diane soon took charge (…of course.  Her tea is much better than anyone else’s!..), and while the first pot was brewing, Nick went down The Plots on his customary ‘look round’ to see what had been happening in the last week since he’d been down.



Here, you can see nearly ripe rosehips growing out of the hedge on the bottom ‘Demonstration Plot’.

Diane has said on a couple of occasions that if we get enough of them, she will look up recipes for rosehip syrup.  Aaaah, happy memories of childhood and the nostalgia comes flooding back!

Even if she doesn’t, you really must agree these things are quite beautiful in their own right.

All too soon, the morning cuppa was over, so after watering  all the greenhouses, Nick set to work on weeding the earth pile that last year had only the three squashes in.

'The Mound' before weeding.

'The Mound' before weeding.

Here is a frankly terrible shot of part of the mound before Nick started work.

Difficult to make out the squashes!

Some would avoid weeding like the plague, saying that it’s boring and back-breaking work, but Nick seemed to enjoy himself for the hour it took him, muttering something about ‘How Zen it was’.  Or something.

Still, after only an hour on his knees (…with a prayer mat…), it looked like this.  A big improvement!

Weeding done!

Weeding done!

In the foreground here, you can see the nasturtiums that had self-seeded from last year, and as Diane quite rightly pointed out; they’ve survived the invasion of black fly earlier in the year and seem to be really picking up.

In a couple of weeks, you won’t be able to see much earth as they compete with the tens of squashes planted there.

On inspection (…He passed!..), Diane pointed out the first squash beginning to form, so within just a few days, we’ll be completely inundated with them.  Still, our crew of ‘Top Chefs’ won’t let us down, and we’re sure they’ll be scouring The ‘Net for recipes and pickling tips.

While Nick was busy with his ‘Zen’, Gary and Diane lifted more produce from the ‘Therapy Plot’.  This time a load of garlic.

Freshly lifted garlic.

Freshly lifted garlic.

As you can see here, their shoots and leaves are still pretty green, but this was done on purpose.

Diane had given Nick some ‘homework’ to find from The ‘Net just how to ‘plait’ onions and garlic so we can store them hanging from the beams in the top wooden shed.

And no, we won’t be wearing black and white striped tee-shirts, berets and riding bicycles round Southey with them strung round our necks!

Because these shoots are still a little ‘green’ and therefore very flexible, they’ll be easy to plait and hang, and as they’ll be stored in the top shed where it’s dry and there’s plenty of air circulation, they shouldn’t rot.  Hopefully…

Onion Bhajis

Onion Bhajis

Very soon, new volunteer, Barry arrived with his son Adam, proudly waving a white plastic food bag.

He’d brought some freshly-made onion bhajis -made with ‘our’ onions he’s taken away last week.  And excellent they were too, with everyone saying that they were better than restaurant ones.

Barry has promised to e-mail Nick the recipe, so he’ll put it on this site under ‘recipes’ as soon as possible.

Matt and Kyle arrived soon after, and Kyle took great delight in taking over from Nick who was filling the water butts, and proudly showed us his ‘fountain’.

Kyle and his fountain.

Kyle and his fountain.

Well, because there was no fire today, it was only right that he have a little ‘playtime’ with his best-friend Jack!

When this water butt was full, the pair of them duly went and filled four of the others towards the bottom of The Plots, so that was a job well-done!

While the boys were filling the water butts, Nick and Matt went to work planting and re-potting stuff.

Nick transplanted four aubergines into big pots which were placed in one of the plastic greenhouses, while Matt transplanted some Cape Gooseberries (Physalis peruviana) kindly donated by Jon, again into much bigger pots and again placed in one of the plastic greenhouses.

Leeks and weeds.

Leeks and weeds.

Flushed with their success at transplanting, they then moved on to planting out ten leeks that were getting very pot-bound.

They decided to plant them next to the existing leeks, but when they looked at the bed, they saw this:-

Undeterred, they weeded round the existing leeks, removed yet more weeds from just next to them, and popped them in in the ‘proper’ way by making a seven inch hole with the cut-off handle of an old spade, then simply dropping the young leeks in before thoroughly watering them in.  This also helped dislodge a little soil near the bottom of the hole around the roots to make sure they were in ‘properly’.

Meanwhile, Gary and David harvested yet more beans -both runner and three different varieties of dwarf french.  And in a few more days, after the last of the dawrf beans, there are still loads of runner beans to harvest.

Sweet enough to pick-and-eat, Nick swears he’ll never get sick of them.  Well we hope not, because there will be loads more to pick in a few days from the three wigwams down on the bottom plot!

So yes.  Weird but good.  Planting and harvesting, all in the same day.

Fun nonetheless!

Big things on the power front.

Yes, things have seemingly ‘gone quiet’ on the power side of things, but like a swan on a lake; you don’t see much happening on the surface, but underneath, its all activity.

Nick is currently working on a totally new circuit to safely transfer power from a bike into the batteries.

New PIC current sensing board.

New PIC current sensing board.

It uses less components, so is therefore cheaper to build.  It also uses the ‘on resistance’ of a switching FET to sense the current flowing into the battery (…thanks to Dave for this inspiration…), so Nick is currently busy writing the PIC code to run it all.

You can see here the big PIC (PIC16F877), the chopping FET on the right hand side with the metal case, and four LED’s -one red and three green- to show various states of charging.

More news in the next few days as and when it happens…

An easy Sunday. 15/08/10

After the crowds of Saturday (…though we’re not complaining.  The more, the better!..), Diane said she would be going down to The Plots on Sunday afternoon to ‘take stock’ with Tina and finish weighing the onions and garlic that had been harvested the previous day.

We feel that before volunteers take produce away, it is important to weigh each crop for our records.  This will aid us next season when deciding which variety grew the best so we can decide just what to plant.

Nick hadn’t got much on that afternoon, so he duly turned up for five as Tina unveiled her latest awesome ‘Kitchen Creation’ in the shape of her ‘Summer Pudding’ (…see ‘Recipes’ for full details and photos…).

The top onion beds after lifting.

The top onion beds after lifting.

Here’s a shot taken as Nick arrived from the road at the top of The Plots.

You can clearly see the ‘ex-onion’ beds where just over half of each bed has been lifted, leaving the other sides a few more days ripening time.

On Saturday, Matt had lifted more fully ripe onions from the bottom ‘Demostration Plot’, and because they were of the same variety as some of the ones on the top beds, these were added to the tally.

Looking at the ‘rough’ figures (…yes, we’ll publish them presently!..), it seems we’ve had a bumper year for these onions and the garlic in particular has grown very well.  Some cloves are bigger than a man’s fist!

More as and when it happens!

Tina’s Summer Pudding.

The all-time ‘classic’ summer dish.

This pudding is roughly based on one done by Delia and one done by Mrs Beeton.

Here its attributed to Tina but inspired by Sara who’d made it the week before.

Summer Pudding before turning.

Summer Pudding before turning.


Seven slices of white bread with the crusts cut off.

750g of Blackberries and strawberries, though just about any soft fruit can be used.

150g golden castor sugar.


Rinse the fruit under a running tap, then place in a large pan along with the sugar.

Gently heat until the sugar melts and the juices begin to run from the fruit.  This should take between three to five minutes.  Be careful not to overcook the fruit as you will lose some of the fresh flavour and it will start to taste ‘stewed’.

Remove the pan from the heat.

Lightly butter a pudding basin with a capacity of one litre.

Trim one slice of bread to fit in the bottom of the basin, then cut 4 slices in half to line the sides of the basin.  Oerlap them at the straight edge and the rounded side with the rounded side down and seal them well be pressing the edges together.  Fill any gaps with small pieces of bread.

Next, pour the fruit and juices in, apart from about a cupful.

Summer Pudding before eating.

Summer Pudding before eating.

Then, cover the pudding with the remaining slice of bread and place a small plate or saucer on top -one that will exactly fit in the top of the bowl.

Place a scale weith of 1.8Kg -or similar- on the top and leave in the fridge overnight.

Just before serving, loosen the pudding all round using a palette knife and turn it out onto a large serving dish, then spoon the reserved fruit and juice over any remaining bread that looks white.

Cut into slices, and serve with fresh cream.


Sunshine and showers. 14/08/10

Now we have the folding gazebos, the odd shower is not the problem it used to be.  It also means we get to go and sit under it, and funnily enough, its right by the metal shed containing, amongst other things, the magic tea kettle.

So, dodging the showers, today was another day of harvesting.

Weeding the onion beds before lifting them.

Weeding the onion beds before lifting them.

To that end, it was decided that Diane and Nick should first weed the four top onion beds by the entry path.  This would make it easier to see exactly where the onions were!

If you recall, we planted these beds as another ‘test’.

Autumn last year, we planted one side of each of the four beds with four different varieties of onion that would withstand the frost, then three lines of different garlic bulbs in the centre of each bed as a ‘marker’.

We then left the other half of each bed ‘fallow’ with some green manure in until spring when we planted the more ‘traditional’ types of onions that can’t stand the frost on the other halves of the beds from the garlic onwards.

The results have been mixed, but we’ve decided that this year we’re going to plant the majority of our onions in the autumn, as quite a few of the ones planted this spring had ‘bolted’.  Anyway, we figure there’s not going to be a lot happening over winter (…famous last words…), so we can spare a few beds for them.

Half-empty beds.

Half-empty beds.

Here, you can see a group of us busily un-earthing the onions and garlic.

You can also see here the halves of the beds that we have left.  This is because the spring-planted ones have just a couple of weeks to go, and you can see that although their leaves have ‘fallen’, they are still very green.  If we had lifted these, then there is a real risk they would have rotted before they had chance to dry.  As with everything on an allotment, its all dependant on the weather, and we’re hoping for a few more dry, warm days for these.



If you were stood where we took that last photo and turned about 90 degrees clockwise, you’d see this:-

This is our ‘Minipop’ variety of sweetcorn, and has been far and away the best of the different varieties we have sown this year.  This is maybe down to the fact that it went in just a couple of weeks before we could sow the other varieties, and it just goes to show the difference just a few days can make in the early part of the season.  This corn is still some weeks off being ready, but we’ll be waiting with the butter and tin foil so we can gently roast the cobs on the fire!

Blue and white borage.

Blue and white borage.

Elsewhere on the top plot, we couldn’t resist another picture of the beautiful borage, this time showing some of the blue and white we’ve planted or has self-sown.

Still, the bees continue to love this plant, and that has to be good news for the other crops we have that are still in flower.  There are two teepees of runner beans on the bottom plot that are just coming into flower (…they were purposefully planted later…), and in a couple of weeks, there should be more peas in flower that will need pollenating.

The onion harvest.

The onion harvest.

We couldn’t finish without a final look at some of the onions we harvested today.

What you can’t see here is the not-inconsiderable amount of garlic we lifted at the same time.

Volunteers are welcome to take our produce home with them (…as long as they actually use it!..), but we hope to keep an awful lot of this back in storage for the coming year ahead.  It will save us a fortune at the supermarket every weekend, and anyway, it always tastes better when you’ve helped grow it yourself!

Well, here we all are down The Plots on a kind-of-sunny Thursday.

‘Kind-of’ because we keep getting interrupted by the frequent showers mixed in the the odd rumble of thunder.

This is no problem because we can now shelter in the new greenhouse, safe from the rain, and myself and Junior Plotter, Kyle are sat here with almost matching laptops happily surfing the web!

Picking runner beans before the storm.

Picking runner beans before the storm.

Here we are picking runner beans just a few minutes ago before the heavens opened.

Anyway, like the famous song ‘Camp Grenada’, its stopped raining and the sun is out, so we’ll leave it there for now.

Better get back to more picking!

Last weekend, Ripley mentioned ‘The Mound’ and that there were sixteen squashes of various types growing on there.

Well, I’m afraid that lad is wrong, because today, Diane and myself went over to it, and she showed me the twenty six different squashes planted there.

What he said about the ‘Whoooops!’ is now ‘Double-Whooooops!’ given that last year just three of the things produced so much.

Okay, some of the plants looked decidedly ‘unhappy’, but even so, ‘Google’ is going to take a real hit with our volunteers and their families scouring The Net for new and exciting recipes.

More tomorrow -when I remember my camera!

Beans. 08/08/10

You want beans?  We got beans!

Bean poles.

Bean poles.

This is a side-view of four of the bean poles on the ‘Therapy Plot’.

What you can’t see is the dwarf beans between them, and if anything, they’re even more prolific this year.

To the right of this picture, you may just make out a couple of blue hoops with netting over.  Under these are the first of the over-wintering greens we are hoping to plant.

Shudder!  The dreaded ‘W-‘ word…

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