Browsing Posts published in April, 2011

And the sun shines on. 30/04/11

And on and on and on. (Though it will be getting a little cooler.)A little visitor.

I arrived a little late this morning, and was greeted by Diane, Derek and New David hard at work.

Diane was making tea (…Yay!..), but Derek was busy with our willow ‘arch’ leading from the ‘main’ top plots you can see from the road into the orchard.

We’d trimmed it back last year, but even though you could walk through it kind of safely, it was looking pretty overgrown on the top.  Large new branches had grown straight upwards, so Derek was cutting these back, of course saving the long cuttings, then using some green string, he ‘trained’ it back into an arch.Training the willow archway.

I think you’ll agree the new arch is much improved, and in the next couple of days, the foliage you can see that’s wilted will spring back to life.

The cuttings have been saved and will make excellent bean-poles for later in the year -more on them in a bit.

Meanwhile New David was busy with the paintbrush and our favourite paint, and we all later agreed, he really has taken to this like a duck to water.

Fully painted beds.Of course, this being LEAF we’re talking about, there’s always painting to be done, and David really enjoys it.

This photo here to right the shows that not only does he enjoy it, but he’s getting very good at it!

After carefully moving all the soil away from the inner surfaces the other day, he’s gone round the outside weeding, then wire-brushed all the outer to get the splatter from last Saturday’s downpour off then very carefully painted it.  Twice. He’ll be back on Wednesday afternoon to finish this off by moving all the soil back, giving it a light ‘furtle’ (…That’s a gardening term we kind of made up, but seems to fit…), then planting either onions or shallots, neither of which you can have too many of in our opinion.

Elsewhere, I planted up a bed of oca next to where Sara and the girls planted potatoes the other day.Six rows of oca.

The far-most row is white oca, then the next five rows are reds.

Of course, I forgot this evening, but tomorrow I’ll make sure these are well watered in.  They’re never going to be in full sunshine because of the trees on the road giving a nice and cool ‘dappled’ shadow effect, so they’ll hopefully never dry our if I forget to water them.Potatoes growing in the cross.

Further down in the Therapy Plot, I noticed these potatoes are about ready to be earthed up for the first time, and I guess they’re going to need a little water at the same time.  Since we had that massive storm a week ago, we’ve had no rain whatsoever, and looking on the forecast this evening, we’re not due any either.

Aah, yes.  I remember it well from last year -the long, late afternoons of trudging back and forth to the water butts then to the beds.  Of course, this is more than offset by the fun to be had when a couple of ‘boys’ (…Well, fully-grown men, actually…) get hold of a hose pipe in the heat of the afternoon sun!

New Sarah arrived just as we were finishing lunch and had brought with her a load of seeds that she said we could have if we planted them.

'Sara's Bed' with peas and broad beans.This was pretty fortuitous because Barry and Sairah had just finished emptying this bed of its gone-to-seed cabbages and broccoli.  So, Sarah and Diane worked their collective magic on here, adding a layer of our compost (..four barrow loads…), some chicken guano pellets and some seaweed mixture, gently working it in, then on the end nearest the camera, they planted two short rows of peas and at the far end, one row of broad beans.  When these come up in a few days time, aside from the frequent watering they’ll need (…Apparently, you can never give peas or beans too much water.  Within limits, of course…), we plan to get them well protected from the greedy pigeons and pop ‘slug traps’ down -old yoghurt pots with a little old beer in them sunk in the soil so the tops are level with the beds.  The slugs go for the beer (…obviously!..), then fall into what for them is a bath of beer, but can’t get out, so drown.

Now, there are two schools of thought about this method of slug-prevention.  One says that its very cruel to drown the slugs, the other says; “What the heck, its beer they’re drowning in!  Way to go!!”

I guess you make your own mind up.Chives in flower.

I couldn’t finish tonight without another shot of some of the chives, now coming into full flower.

I never tire of looking at these.

And of course, they’ll keep on flowering now for ages.  And of course, the bees love them.

So tomorrow, the weather looks like being excellent again, and a few of us ‘allotment-addicts’ will be down at The Plots for the now almost-customary (…I guess a month more and it will be fully customary…) ‘Sunday Brunch’ where we arrive for about 10.00am, do some work, then enjoy a late, fried brunch, all the while talking over plans for the future.

Of course, this being an allotment site, we never have a good gossip.

Perish the thought!

…But not far off.

Unfortunately, Ian couldn’t make it this afternoon, so I was all alone in my work and with him not being around, it was obviously only half-speed.Beds painted.

Still, I managed to get all the painting done.

This shot to the right shows the three top beds on the top-most plot.  The scabby one on the far left is coming out very soon.  You can’t see from this angle, but the wood is totally rotten, so as previously mentioned, we’re moving the bed from directly in front of the wooden shed to here.  We may have to shorten it somewhat to match the other two, but to a couple of ‘Pro-Bodgers’ like myself and Ian, this is no trouble.The top railway-sleeper bed.

On the left here we have the bed to the left of the crumbling one, and as you can see, its ‘properly’ made with new railway sleepers.  The word to watch here is ‘new’.  If you try to use old ones soaked in oil and goodness knows what, you’ll have a devil of a job with leeching into your precious soil.  If someone offers you railway sleepers to raise a bed with, ask politely if they’re unused!

So, these two beds are now fully painted with two coats of ‘One Coat Paint’ (!) and are ready to go.  They look ‘patchy’ because that second coat (…of the ‘one coat’ paint…) hadn’t dried when I took these photos.  Tomorrow, Sara is bringing her girls along and they will hopefully be planting potatoes in one of them, then there are plans for oca in one of the others.  The final one?  I’ll have to consult the ‘master map’ and let you know!

We plan to move that bed from in front of the wooden shed sooner rather than later.  This will give an excellent ‘exercise area’ on which to place the bikes when we’re charging the batteries.  Its on a slight upward slope, but this is ideal as the frames the bikes sit in raises the back wheel slightly.  If you’re on the flat, this has the slightly disconcerting effect of making you feel like you’re forever cycling downhill, but this slight slope will mean that you can point the bike ‘uphill’ towards the road (…and wave excitedly to the passers-by…), and you will in effect by pedaling on the flat.

I plan to ‘secrete’ quite a lot of the electronics near here*, so it’ll keep the cable runs nice and short.

So, today didn’t go quite as planned, but we’ve moved forward nonetheless, albeit more slowly than I’d have liked.

Tomorrow, I have a meeting to attend in the morning, but as soon as I’m able, I’ll be up at The Plots.

This time, I’ll be armed with a big fork.  And an attitude.

Strawberries in a path?  Not for very much longer!

More very soon…

 

*Note: I could tell you exactly where all the ‘electrickery’ is going to be housed, but as its so secret, I’d then have to kill you.  Sorry.

A Day Off? Surely not! 26/04/11

Yep.  We took today off.

Fully reprehensible I know, but we all had other important stuff to do.

So, yesterday Ian and myself had a gentle wander over to The Plots to do a little ‘background work’.  Work that nobody really sees, is not really ‘fashionable’, and most people don’t really want to do, but the site would look a dog’s dinner (…Sorry, Mitzi.  Er, “cat’s chow” then…) without it.Rows of assorted salad leaves.

On arriving, we made our customary ’rounds’ -just to check stuff over and look for anything really urgent, and we came across these in the new ‘Zen Seating Area':-

Diane had stayed late on Sunday afternoon to plant all these assorted young salad leaves donated by Jon.  Its not awfully clear from this terrible photo, but these are absolutely to the millimetre in line with each other and with the rows either side.

That’s proper planting that is.  By a professional.

The thing is, these kinds of salad are meant to be ‘harvested’ by taking off a few leaves from the outer layer while leaving the plant intact.  This means the plant can regrow in a few days, ready to be cropped again.  There are potentially enough plants here to ensure that our ears and teeth grow, and if we’re not careful, our back legs will become ‘Thumpers’!  “…Neeeaaaa…  What’s up, doc?!”

And, because its right behind where we’ll be sat, it really couldn’t be any easier to pick to eat.  Convenience food at its finest!

So, our plan yesterday was to work the top of The Plots.  We’ve got an ‘Open Day’ in a few weeks, so we think its pretty important that potential visitors aren’t put off before they even get in the gate!Painting the top beds.

To that end, we started work on some of the top-most beds in preparation for planting in a few days/weeks time.

Paint was the order of the day, and we wasted no time (…apart from a ‘pre-work’ cup of tea and chat…) in getting stuck in with the big brushes and our favourite green paint.

Diane had very carefully ‘gone over’ this beds you can see here, so Ian is using the plank to as to disturb the soil as little as possible.  He painted the insides, I painted the outsides.

We then moved on to the other beds on the top plot, including the raised one made of untreated railways sleepers.With paint, minus escaping strawberry plants.

Of course, I didn’t get any photos of the whole lot completed, but I will do tomorrow afternoon.

Now, this bed here is the same one as the previous photo, and you’ll agree it looks much better without the errant strawberry plants and the huge dock plant sat in the middle of the path.

Tomorrow afternoon will be much of the same for us.  We plan to give these beds another coat of paint (…which is sold by a major garden manufacturer as a ‘One Coat’ paint. “Does what it says on the tin!” It proudly exclaims.  Yeah.  Right…), then carry on with the back-breaking but oh-so-rewarding strawberry plant from the path removal.

So, normal service will be resumed tomorrow, and if we’re successful with more strawberry removal, I can feel an attack of ‘path wood chipping’ coming on.

Dead good fun, and very photogenic!

The Sunday Session. 24/04/11

After such an enjoyable brunch last Sunday after Jez had been to see to the bees, Matt suggested that we ought to make it a ‘regular’ thing.  Just meeting up at The Plots -a ‘hardened (…or stupid…) few’.  We’d do a little work (…remember, it is a Sunday!..), then have a cooked ‘Full English’ and we’d all bring different ‘bits’ -bacon, eggs, sausages etc., then Diane and Jon would cook them.

So, we agreed to do just that this morning.The rain gauge this morning.

Ian and I arrived first, so carried on with our new seating area -it needed more paint after being washed away yesterday afternoon.

Talking of which, it rained again last night -just another millimetre or so, so the ground was perfect for spot weeding and picking out slugs.

Looking on the Orchard Plot, I couldn’t help but notice the battering the rhubarb had taken.Rhubarb.  With holes!

A casual glance, and you’d think the slugs had been at these leaves, but there was no sign of their trails, and quite a lot of these holes are exactly the same size as most of the hail that fell yesterday.

Good job we don’t grow the  rhubarb for its leaves!

As I wandered round today, I couldn’t help but notice that everything seemed so fresh. The rain had washed away all the grime and dust that had built up over the last couple of weeks since it last properly rained.Chives.

Down on the bottom ‘Demonstration Plot’, I was welcomed by the sight of these chives about to break into their beautiful flowers.

In a few days when they all burst out, I’ll get some more photos -most likely full of buzzing bees, busy gathering nectar.

As it had fully dried today, Ian and I were able to finally, properly finish off our latest ‘Master Work’ -the new expanded seating up by the metal shed.

Painted seating.This was taken by me standing precariously on the top of the folding steps with Ian holding them reassuringly steady beneath.

I may be good at a few things, but heights isn’t one of them!

You’ll notice the ground has that ‘earthen’ look.  This was shot before Diane worked her magic on the soil -smoothing and filling the peaks and troughs, adding a little hardcore to the obviously sunken bits, then smoothing it all over before adding a fine layer of the ubiquitous wood-chip.Finally done!

And here is the finally finished area, this time taken from ground level to save my vertigo.

The more physics-inclined reader might want to take a little closer look at the right-hand-most stump sat in full sunshine.

Enlarge the picture a couple of times and check out the angles of the wood base and pillar.  Notice how the base slopes away at two angles; the wooden pillar at another and yet we still managed to get the top (…nearly…) straight and in line.  Not bad when you consider that we didn’t cut the base or the pillar! They were exactly that way straight off the lorry that delivered them.  We’ve done this with all the bases and pillars we’ve used -that’s why it took us so long to make and finish.  A fair amount of time was spent just looking at what we’d got and trying to work it all from there with as little sawing as possible.

Still, instead of five or six uncomfortably sat squashed together, we can now sit fifteen quite comfortably.LEAF's latest 'resident'.

This evening before we left, Diane, Ian and I were wandering around the top plot discussing jobs for the coming few days when we came across this little chap.

He was quite contentedly resting in one of the beds, happy I think with the recent rain.

Great for his skin, and he’ll love all the slugs and snails that come out after such a dry spell.

With the work we have planned over the coming days and the vast amounts of weeds and undergrowth Ian and I plan to ‘oik out’ (…therefore disturbing anything small and slimy…), I think this frog is going to get an awful lot fatter very quickly.

Hells, he can bring his mates:- we’re having a party.

All the slugs you can eat!

Then the rain came, with thunder, lightning, even hail!  But more of that in a while.

Carrying on from where we left off the other day, Ian and I once again attacked the seating area up by the top metal shed.

We’d already positioned most of the stumps we were going to use for risers, but had a little trouble trying to get them to fit in without excess wobbling when you sat down.Working on the stumps.

Here you can see a couple of the new ones with a ‘trial’ piece of seating between them.  As you can imagine, no matter how much we packed them with stones or slithers of slate, they always rocked.

Then, looking back at how Ian had so expertly done the old ones, the solution was simple.  Simply sit a stump on a large, thin and flat piece of tree trunk. Detail of a stump fixing. Then a few well-camouflaged long nails to secure the two together, and hey presto, job done!

Here you can see in detail a stump with its ‘base’, and these are surprisingly stable.

By now, Barry and family had arrived and he gave us a hand with the first coat of paint.

Seemingly no sooner had we finished the painting then the heavens opened.  Of course, this completely washed it all off, but that’s not a problem.  Just slap some more on!

They sky had been getting increasingly darker and darker, then there was a faint rumble, a few big spots of rain then Blam!

It rained for over an hour; heavy, heavy rain, loads of thunder and the odd flash of lightning, then it started hailing!Flood!

In the planter towards the bottom of this picture, you can see the hailstones.

Actually, this photo was taken as the storm was dying down, but you can see the river running down the path towards the greenhouse.  Diane and Barry had to divert the water flow using shovels and a mattock to hack at the ground to allow it to flow away.  If they hadn’t, then our greenhouse would have completely flooded!Whoops.  Very unhappy cat!

One LEAF regular (…well, she is Vice-Chair!..) who didn’t escape the downpour was poor little Mitzi-Moos.

Cold, wet and hungry.  Still, we fed her again, and very soon, the sun was back out, so we were all able to carry on from where we left off, but not before a ‘group shot’ by Diane of most of us sat at our new seating.One happy family.

Now, I probably should name everyone on this photo, but I’m not going to.

If you want to find our names, then come down The Plots on a Saturday afternoon and join us!

Great tea, superb, home-cooked food and plenty of chats.

Often with cats.

 

The camera never lies. 22/04/11

Unfortunately, on this shot, it did!Bendy shelves?

If you look down the bottom right of this photo, you’ll see the right-most leg of this set of staging for the greenhouse has got a definite bend in it.

In fact if you look at the entire length of it, you’ll see it bends almost alarmingly.

To the the bottom far right of of this shot, you’ll also see the edge of the greenhouse seemingly bending inwards.

Dear Reader, this is nothing but the cheap lens on this cheap camera playing ‘fish-eye’ tricks.  With a proper camera, it wouldn’t.

Honest!

So, today was a day when myself and Ian carried on from where we left off yesterday and we managed to finally finish these shelves and get them correctly positioned (…we hope!..) in the greenhouse ready for more trays of seeds in the coming days.

All great fun!

We then moved on to ‘prepping up’ the oh-so-popular seating area up by the metal shed.

For some weeks now it has become increasingly obvious that we don’t have anything like enough seating for our growing ‘army’ of willing vict.. Er, volunteers.

To address this, after long consultations and planning meetings, we have finally come up with a way of greatly expanding this area, doing away with the ‘pretty’ but uncomfortable ‘park bench’ but continuing with the ‘natural’ theme we so love.

We’re expanding Ian’s seating with tree trunks and scavenged lumber.Digging out part of the strawberry bed.

This area here used to be strawberries until a few days ago when Diane ‘attacked it’, taking out all the old plants and chives, leaving it ready for us to move.

Here, we’re half way through moving the soil away, and there were ten barrow-loads in total.  We put six down on the Children’s Plot and four up on a currently dormant bed further up this plot.  This dormant bed just needs raking over, a generous helping of our excellent compost, and it’ll be ready for planting a selection of salad.New seating laid out.

In this shot, taken minutes before we left you can see the new stumps -not yet ‘bedded in’ with some ‘sample’ seating laid across the top to check approximate levels.

Of course, this being ‘rough carpentry’ at its finest done by a couple of proper bodgers (…in the correct, old-fashioned sense of the word, of course…), then things like spirit levels and plumb lines are for mere amateurs. Our philosophy (..such as that is…) is that if it looks right and it doesn’t fall over (…too often…), then its good enough for us.

Yes, we realise that it’ll all rot in a couple of years, but that’s the whole point!

If we’re still using them then, well, we’ll simply build some more from the materials we have to hand at that time using a little ingenuity and a whole lot of fun.

Anyway, its getting far past my bedtime right now, but I promise to get you some pictures of the whole thing complete and painted tomorrow evening.

Now, where’s that ‘After Sun’..?

Queens: Out! 21/04/11

Today Jez returned, this time to check on the ‘nucs’ he brought along the other day and to check the big hive for the remaining Queens and remove all but the ‘main’ Queen.Checking the hives.

Here you can see him, fully suited up checking over one of the small ‘nucs’ for newly laid, uncapped brood.

He found many in all the hives, and this shows that the bees are ‘settling in’ well to their new environment.

After checking them over, he moved onto the larger hive for the Queen operation.Taking out a Queen pupa.

Here you can see him handing Diane one of the Queen pupae into an egg crate.

Notice Diane’s hand. (…and by inference, the rest of her…)  Completely unprotected!

Jez kept warning us about possible bee-stings and how the insurance wouldn’t cover it, but for some reason, we were all cool about the whole affair, and once again, no-one got stung!

Strangely strange, but oddly normal.

Thoroughly checking all the hives took well over an hour, and afterwards, Jez was drenched in sweat from the claustrophobic suit and tight rubber gloves., but when he was finally done, he pronounced all the hives fully fit with no sign of the dreaded varroa mite, and the possible problem with the Queens now fully under control.

More bees. And seating. 19/04/11

Jez made a flying visit today with four more replacement ‘nucs’ that had been lost over that long, cold winter,New nucs. and here you can see them in the centre and left of the photo.  Eagle-eyed readers may well notice that the big hive on the right has shrunk.  This is because Jez has now taken the top feeding box off the top.  With so much pollen about, they have no need for the fondant mix that kept them going over the cold period.  He says he’ll return, probably on Thursday morning to have another look at the Queen situation in that big hive, and if necessary, he’ll split the hive into two separate colonies.

Last post, I outlined the work planned for today, and I’m pleased to say the majority of it got done!  The ‘old’ seating area up by the metal shed has now been replaced by some shiny new, longer planking.New seating.

If that table wasn’t in the way you’d be able to see that its a few inches longer.  Ian and I have replaced the top tree stump on the right hand side, putting a couple of pretty hefty nails between that and the bottom stump so it won’t move.  We’ve also seated the new planking further in on both stumps, so the nails holding them in place certainly won’t fall out as the previous ones tended to.

All they need now is a few coats of that excellent green paint, and at the same time we’ll sand down the remaining planks then paint them in the same paint so they’ll all match.  While the previous varnish may have looked good when it was done, it really doesn’t last, and if the weather’s a bit iffy, it takes days to dry.  We’ve found that the green paint, with it being completely non-toxic and environmentally friendly is dead good fun to slap on, and if you give something enough coats, we think it looks pretty good.  …So green paint it is!

Elsewhere on The Plots, our two beds of rhubarb are really coming on leaps and bounds.Rhubarb! If you click twice on this picture, you’ll see the flowers just starting to form.  I cut these off from this patch, but the other patch up behind the metal shed we’re leaving to flower and hopefully seed.  After all, with Matt ‘on the pies’, you can really never have too much rhubarb!

Tomorrow morning, I have another load of business to sort out -not least of which will be seeing Mr Ward Senior for lunch and getting a progress report on our new steel window opener brackets.

After that -early afternoon I guess, I’ll be back up at The Plots, and myself and Ian have major plans (…fully sanctioned by ‘Senior Management’!..) for the seating area up by the metal shed.  We plan to expand it greatly to allow more ‘bums on seats’ because on a Saturday early evening, its getting difficult to find somewhere to sit to eat!  We’ll also be moving the park bench down to the bottom ‘Demonstration Plot’ to make way for a new row of benches.  I’ll get some pictures to explain better later in the week.

So, I said at the start of this post that most of our planned work had been done today.  What I missed out was the planting that I said we’d do.  Well, I’m afraid I wimped out of this.  Today I was wearing a new pair of shorts, and because I completely forgot in my haste to put any sun-block on, the tops of my legs are very sunburned and very sore.  Thankyou very much.

More tomorrow, this time with pictures that actually show something…

 

After all the excitement of Saturday and my ‘late night blogging’, I completely missed my alarm call in the morning on Sunday, and it was only a call from Diane that managed to rouse me.

Still only half-awake, I staggered over to The Plots, and things weren’t quite over.  Jez had taken down the swarm and covered it in an old blanket then popped it into an old pillowcase.

Inspecting the remaining hive.Here you can see Diane -on the left with the shiny new beekeeper’s suit on- inspecting the hive with Jez for possible ‘Queen Cells’.  These are cells that as I said last post are fed royal jelly, and in total, Jez found more than 15 possible cells!

Pointing out a Queen Cell.If you single-click twice on the photo to the right, you will just make out the peanut-shaped Queen cell that Diane is pointing to with her little finger down towards the bottom left of the comb.

Of course, not all of these cells will become Queens, and some of the less-developed ones will either be discarded or deliberately opened and left to die.

The other ‘capped’ cells are future brood, waiting to hatch in a few days when they will emerge and become worker bees.Kyle with the old Queen.

Now, about this time I’d better point out Saturday’s error in my reporting.  When the swarm happen its the OLD Queen that leaves the hive, not the new one as I’d reported.  I am only a ‘bee-ginner’. Sorry!

On the left here, I was looking over Kyle’s shoulder as he held the plastic case with the Old Queen in and three of her ‘subjects’.

Jez with the swarm.So, with the aid of some long ladders and much skill, Jez managed to get the swarm safely down, into a pillowcase and into his Landrover, and here he is gently carrying them to his car.

It was important that they be moved as quickly as possible to cause the bees the least amount of stress, so he got them into his car and drove off pretty quickly.

Hopefully tomorrow he’ll be back to re-inspect the hive and see how the new Queen cells are getting on.  If needs be (…sorry!..), he’ll take one or more of them to help prevent further swarming.

When Jez had gone, Diane revealed that as a ‘Special Treat’ for us for getting out of bed so early on a Sunday morning, she’d brought all the makings for a fried breakfast.  Did we want to stay to share it?  For our answer, simply look back to the last post with reference to Matt’s gooseberry pie!

Breakfast was over all too soon, but Diane had another surprise!

Jon and the chocolate cake.Here you can see Jon, mulling over the difficult question (…hence the thoughtful look…) of whether to divide the sticky toffee cake into four or eight.

Luckily, he chose eight, so we all got a piece!

So, today was pretty quiet by comparison.

I’d had a little business to sort out in the early morning, but arrived at The Plots in time for an important meeting, the details of which I can’t yet reveal, but of course, as soon as I can, then I’m sure we will get it up here on our website.

Then, well, it was another day of ‘pottering’.  Just doing stuff that needed doing, and of course drinking plenty of tea.  Well, it was so sunny, we had to keep hydrated!

Tomorrow, even though we’re not meant to, we’ll be down there again.  This time I do have work to do.  This will be in the shape of re-making the top seating by the metal shed, hopefully with Ian, then after some hoeing, we’ll be planting some mixed salad greens that Jon has kindly donated .  They’ll be going into one of the new long planters by the new ‘Zen Area’ so in a few weeks time people will literally be able to turn round in their seats and pick their own salad.

You really can’t get much fresher than that!

Hopefully more tomorrow evening.

 

Buzzing. 16/04/11

No, we really mean it!

Today started off in the normal, ‘gentle’ Saturday morning manner, with tea and chats (…with cats?..), but soon after Gary arrived he made some excited comment along the lines of:-

“Er… Are they meant to be doing that?!”  While pointing over the shed onto the Orchard Plot in the direction of the beehives. continue reading…


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