Browsing Posts published in March, 2012

More and more…

…Hedge cutting!

As I arrive this morning, this greeted me:-Overgrown hedges!

It felt like I’ve spent the last lifetime cutting this hedge.  Just when I thought I was making some progress, I’d look over my right shoulder and see it all laughing at me.  I swear this hedge has got longer, thicker and higher in the time I’ve spent cutting it.

Meanwhile, Ian was working down towards the ‘new’ (…i.e. ‘re-discovered’…) patio area, valiantly digging and weeding.

To the left here you can make out the area he was working on just to the left of the greenhouse.More digging.  More weeding..  Somewhere under all that lot was a patio.  And beds to plant stuff in!

Still, it didn’t really seem like work today.  Working in the sun was glorious!  Of course, I kept pretty much covered up, even though there were no small children or animals around, but when I did take my top off, I could feel that ‘burning’ sensation within a few minutes.

Marvellous!

At lunchtime, I went up to the shops for a couple of fishcake butties, and on my return, Ian had cracked open his cool back which was full of…

…A six-pack of BEER!Beer for lunch!

To the right you can see our ‘table’ just as we’d finished lunch.  Six empty bottles of your finest imported ‘Beck’s’.

But Hang On!  You shout.  You’re a ‘dry’ project!

Yes, Dear Reader.  You’re quite correct.  We are a ‘dry’ project.

But today, we weren’t at LEAF!

Yes, yes, yes.  I know.  Nit-picking.

Alcohol-free beer!But hang on.

If you check out this photo to the left -you’ll see it’s just a cut-out and blow-up of the one up to the right, highlighting the actual bottles themselves.

Click on the image.

What do you see written beneath the word ‘Blue’?

Aaaaah.  The  penny drops.   ‘Beck’s’ ‘Blue’ is alcohol-free beer.

And very pleasant it was too.  A bargain from Tesco’s up the road for less than £3.00.  Even better because Ian had bought it last night and it had spent the night in his fridge, and he’d brought it in his ‘ice-bag’ this morning.

So, we happily carried on this afternoon.  Weeding and hedge cutting.Our new 'patio area'.  Still, the results when we left for the evening were pretty pleasing.

To the right here you can see our newly-reclaimed patio area, with our table and chairs already in position.

Direct and unhindered sunshine!

After I’d taken this shot, I swiveled round about 90 degrees clockwise, and was met with this:-Look!  No hedge!

No hedge!  I’d finished that side!

It took me the whole of the day from both sides of it, but it’s finally down to a much more manageable height.  From now on, it should only need a gentle trim every few weeks.  Thankfully!

Oh, and just before we shut up the greenhouse for the afternoon, I couldn’t help but get this shot:-92 degrees and rising...

No, this photo hasn’t been ‘doctored’.  Despite the fact that both the door was open and we have that broken window at the other end and Ian ‘watered’ the floor to try to cool it, it was still over 90 degrees.  No wonder the old fella who loved this land so much had painted the window glass with white emulsion!

Ian is putting in a full day tomorrow, but I have business down in Sunny Hillsborough early in the morning.  I may get up before lunch.

Then afterwards, it’ll be time for a trit-trot up the lane to see how we can help out at LEAF for the afternoon.

More fun.  In the sun.

We like.

SUNSHINE! 25/03/12

The weather report for this morning and hereafter: Glorious Sunshine!

We like this.

Camera:  Fully Charged.

Lunch:  Sorted (…With thanks to Ian today!..)

Gardening Gear:  Packed.

Suntan lotion:  Packed.

Rat Phone:  Switched OFF

More this evening…

A little ‘off course’.

Today, Ian and I were going to get a full day’s ‘Plotting’ in.  A good half day up at LEAF, then the rest of the time down on my Plot.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work like that.  Ian had to wait in for the third time for the ‘man from the electric board’ to come and fit him a new meter, and I, well…  Lets just say I was, er, ‘indisposed’.  Lets just say that I thanked goodness I had plenty of toilet roll in…

SO, we were a little late kicking off, and unfortunately, LEAF was without us for the time we’d planned.  Still, on our frequent trips up there, it looked like we weren’t really needed.  Loads of jobs to do, but there were loads of people to do them!  We’ll be back tomorrow for a ‘Sunday Sesh’, so I promise to get some shots and whack them up here when I get back.Ian's work towards the patio.

To the right here you can see Ian’s work to the left of the new walking boards we had to lay.  Even though this area doesn’t look like much, when you compare it with the photos from just a few days ago, you’ll see that now there are no dock plants, and you’ll just have to take our word for it when we say that the bindweed has gone.

Of course, we’ll have left loads in -that’s part of the fun- but what is left will certainly have a headache and will think twice about choking all our fruit and vegetables to death.

During his work, Ian very carefully lifted a clematis that was completely surrounded by blackberry vines, thistles and good-old bindweed roots.

He very skillfully lifted it with a huge bundle of roots, then very gingerly picked the roots apart to leave a nice, big clump of clematis roots.  He then transplanted it equally carefully (…of course, talking to it all the time!..) up to a spot near the potato bed.  I’ll get a shot or two of it tomorrow.

Oh, and on Diane’s advice gave it gallons of water.  It will need watering just about every day for a week or so to minimise it’s disruption and to make it feel at home, watching over the potatoes.

Meanwhile, I was hard at it, cutting back the hedge by the small greenhouse.The big hedge starts to get a haircut.  Click on the photo to the left to see some of my hard work.

And what hard work it really was!

I was using Diane’s extendable loppers -after I’d repaired them.  These really don’t mess about when it comes to cutting through branches up to 2″ thick.

The only problem was that it was so slow.  I’d cut a branch off, then have to pull it clear of the hedge and lay it down on the path before I could cut another.  All I can say is that these ‘Big Boys’ Toys’ really do give you an upper body workout.  Who needs a gym?!Look behind the greenhouse...

If you check out the photo to the right here, if you look behind the greenhouse, you’ll see a large bush / small tree.

I mentioned this the other day and said I’d find out what it is and post details of it.

Well, today I found out from the ‘Encyclopedia Florae Dianicus’ (…Work that out!..) that its actually a ‘berberis’.

Berberis is full flower.These ‘Bad Boys’ have gorgeous little orange/yellow flowers, but the reason they are ‘bad’ is that their thorns are really, really sharp.  You only need catch one slightly, and it’ll put a huge rip your T-shirt or jeans.  As its covering an otherwise bare bit of hedge by the greenhouse, it should deter all but the most determined -or terminally stupid- unwanted guests.

So tomorrow will be much the same as today, but longer.

The clocks go forward tomorrow morning (…Yay!  BRING IT ON!..), and we want an early start.  Both Ian and myself are ‘Early Risers’, preferring to get stuff done before the shine has worn off the day.

Then, if its anything like as hot as the weathermen say it will be, well, it could be home for an early bath and little ‘Siesta’ during the heat of the afternoon…

Then again, there’s just so much to be done, I doubt it!

There was ‘More tomorrow…’

But nothing really worth writing home about, or with the dull, overcast weather for much of the day, much to take photos of.

So, you’ll just have to imagine the good progress Ian and myself have made up towards the Holy Grail of the small greenhouse and the alleged ‘Patio Area’.

Ian has expertly given the jasmine a haircut and found a couple of other shrubs that needed some drastic TLC.

I carried on digging and weeding, this time fighting valiantly with the huge blackberry bramble that threatens to overtake and swamp the small greenhouse.

Luckily, I’ll have my good friend ‘Domestos’ at hand tomorrow as we make a final assault.

Of course, with the patio cleared and habitable, all we’ll have to decide is quite where will be the best positions for our padded sun loungers and large umbrella for this summer!  (…Not!..)

Joking aside, what we will have to decide pretty soon is what we’re going to put where in the latest clear area.

We’re thinking brassicas and legumes, but as with anything to do with allotments, this could change at a moment’s notice.

Great fun, though!

Tomorrow, we plan to put in at least half a day up at LEAF, then it’ll be back to my plot for more…

…Digging!

Its all happening on Plot 34.

Ian and I got down to my plot just before lunch today after a fun morning up at LEAF building ‘houses for bees’.Its a PEAR tree?!  Right?

Today’s task would be: More digging!

Before we could even think about doing that, though, we had to have a ‘little wander round’ to see if there were any signs of emergent life.

And I’m very pleased to announce that there were!  It seemed like all about us, life was bursting to get out of the soil!

Our first onion making it's dash for the sky!To the left here you can see the first onion, making it’s ‘bid for the sky’ as the first shoots spring up.  I swear this wasn’t like that just the other day.

Elsewhere, other plants were taking advantage of the warm spring sunshine, and the new rhubarb (…Thanks Jon!..) has wasted no time in sprouting, either.Rhubar, rhubarb!

To the right here you can see one of the two new crowns, and I can’t help thinking of Matt’s superb rhubarb and whatever pies from last summer.  Who knows, I may be inspired this year to have a go and make a pie or crumble to bring down myself one Saturday for all our LEAF volunteers.

If I am inspired, then I’ll be sure to get loads of pictures as I completely trash my kitchen in the process!

In most of the corners of the big onion bed we have roses that both Ian and I have pruned.  Well, Ian has pruned most of them, and I’ve hacked one to bits.  I thought when I’d done this ‘rough pruning’ that I’d surely killed the rose, but today there were new shoots on it.New growth from my 'hacked up' rose bush.

Here it is to the left, and you can clearly see the new red shoots beginning to form.  Amazing that even I can hack at something like the complete amateur I am and it still has a go at recovering.

Also showing this morning were the first signs of life from the first bed I cleared and planted up.  I have a couple of photos, but as I can’t remember what went where without looking at the ‘map’, I’ll leave them for another day…

So today, we carried on clearing the bed I’m been telling you about, and we certainly made good progress.  Despite the dock plants, bindweed, dandelions and couch grass seemingly ganging up on us by insisting on growing all together at the same time completely intertwined, we’ve managed to clear right back to the small greenhouse.Part way through today's clearing.

To the right here is Ian in front of the yellow ‘folly’ left by the previous tenant.  Getting rid of this would be a major headache because there was a well-established jasmine plant right in front, growing through some plastic netting in both directions!

Folly?  What folly?!This shot to the left shows the area after we’d carefully cut the jasmine free and gently lifted the rotted wooden posts, yellow gas pipe and other detritus out of the way.

Particularly satisfying was cutting the huge bramble to the right of this structure, directly in front of the little greenhouse.  Even though blackberry stems and roots are fearsomely strong and exceedingly nasty to get caught on, when you show them a pair of sharp secateurs, they’re very easy and oh-so-satisfying to cut through.  Just make sure you’re wearing decent gloves -or even gauntlets.

And long trousers!

All too soon it was home time for the pair of us.  As we can both attest; ‘Hell hath no fury like a hungry cat’!

If the weather behaves itself, there’ll be more tomorrow!

 

 

 

Fun in the sun. 22/03/12

After this morning’s early low, clinging mist, the sun soon came out, and as we had our Head Beekeeper, Charles arriving, it made working outside all the more enjoyable.The demonstration hive.

Today he brought with him a ‘demonstration hive’ of a single comb with glass on either side.  You can see it here to the right with Fran eagerly snapping away with Diane’s camera, Diane next to her and Gary to her left with his camera phone.

I waited while everyone had had a good look and had taken shots on their various cameras before I got up close with my own.Close-up of the demonstration hive.

Its a shame this shot on the left here didn’t come out any better, but the sun angle was wrong, and I couldn’t help but get the reflection of the box in the glass side.

Still, if you click on this image to get the enlarged version, you’ll see the bees hard at work.

There’s something about bees, how they live and work that I find totally fascinating.  I really could quite happily sit all day just watching them.

After we’d ooh-ed and aah-ed for a good while (…of course drinking tea at the same time!..), it was time to crack on and get some frames built for the hives being delivered in a couple of weeks.

Moving down to by the greenhouse and the large working area this affords, Charles wasted no time in showing us how to build a frame.Building a frame.

The parts for these come ‘flat-packed’ (…A bit like IKEA, but with no screws missing!..), so all you have to do it knock them together and then insert the ‘former’ that the wax comb is built up on by the bees.  Sometimes, the wax formers are a little misshapen or over-sized -ours today were just a gnats too long, but a sharp Stanley knife and a straight edged rule soon sorted that out.

Once the comb former is in, its a simple matter to tack it together using quite long tacks so they go right through the wood.Tacking it together.

To the left here you can see Charles putting the bottom three tacks in which line up nicely with the metal ‘hoops’ embedded within the comb itself.

We seemed to take forever building these, but Charles says that with a little practise on a cold winter’s day (…indoors, obviously!..), he can knock together about 30 an hour.  Practice makes perfect!And we have a go!

To the right here you can see Fran on the left next to Pam who’s standing next to Carol.  From the right inwards we have PXI Nick, Shaun, Gary then Jon on the far right.

Someone laughingly remembered ‘The Generation Game’ with pairs of contestants having just a couple of minutes to complete some task.  Well, this took us a few more than a couple of minutes!

I left the group early to go do some digging down on my plot, but not before I’d made a couple of frames up, and here you can see my first in the new super that in just a few weeks time will literally be buzzing!Grafitti.

As you can probably work out, each of these will hold ten frames.

In total we made up fifty frames for our five hives.

Not bad going for complete beginners, eh?

Buzzin’! 22/03/12

Today our new Head Beekeeper, Charles, is due down to The Plots for about 10.30am.

He’ll be here to meet and greet us, but also to join us in making the frames for the five new bee hives we’ll be having delivered in just a couple of weeks time.

All exciting stuff!

I’ll Blog later with photos to tell you how it all went.

Re-making a bed… 17/03/12

…and re-making the fire.

Today, Ian and I spent much of the day up at LEAF.  While having my own plot is good and great and all, I realise that I wouldn’t have it were it not for LEAF and Diane’s oh-so-patient guidance and tutelage.

So this morning, Ian and I re-made the ‘main’ LEAF fireplace down on the Children’s Plot.  Ian had re-made it last year by putting a low brick wall around the actual fire area so we could put a heavy duty wire ‘cage’ over the hot coals.  It made balancing the many tins of potatoes much easier.

Now, we were taking it to the ‘LEAF Fire: The Next Generation’ kind of thing.The LEAF Fire: The Next Generation.

You can see it nearly finished here to the right.  This is before Ian put the final piece of wire meshing over the larger, higher area.

To the right -under the meshing- is the area we will use for boiling a kettle or two.

And to the left here, you can see it in action!Boiling kettles of water.

This is just after both the kettles have boiled, so we put them to keep warm slightly away from the flames.

Ian timed a kettle full of cold water, and it took about 15 minutes to whistle from first putting it on.  This compares pretty favourably with the gas rings up in the top metal shed.  They only take about 10 minutes, but then again, they use expensive bottled gas.  These kettles boiled ‘for free’ using scrap firewood.

And somehow, the tea we first made using this hot water tasted even better than ‘normal’ Plot Tea.  Difficult to imagine, but true.

I then went up to the local fish and chip shop to get four fishcake butties for myself, Shaun, Diane and Ian, so we very quickly ate these, had another cup of tea (…well, you have to, after such a lunch!..), then Ian and I worked up on one of the long beds up on the top plot.

This bed had been one of the strawberry beds, but we’d cleared it out as the plants in there were pretty old and ‘woody’.  Unfortunately, the sides of this bed had rotted, so Ian and I used two of the new second-hand scaffolding boards we’d bought a couple of weeks ago that had been freshly and expertly painted by Derek in ‘our’ green.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of this, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.  I’ll get a few tomorrow!

When we’d done this, we both went down to my Plot to carry on digging and planting.Tomato seedling.

To the right here is my ‘first’ tomato seedling coming through in the greenhouse.

Ian planted a load of leek seeds in a large tray that we’ll start off in the greenhouse, then plant out when they’re large enough.  He also planted some runner beans, two to a large pot that we can plant out when they’re ready.  Five pots in total.

We then carried on with the digging on the right hand bed we put all the spuds in a couple of days ago.  This bed is tremendously full of dock plants -and of course bindweed, but we took it steady and managed to get a fair amount done before we had to leave it for the afternoon.  This was about 3.45pm, and that meant time to wander up the lane, back to LEAF and start a ‘proper’ fire to roast potatoes on.Roasting spuds!

And here to the left they are!  As you can see, we fired up the bigger, left hand side of the new fire and wasted no time in getting some BIG lumps of wood on it to build up the heat.

(…As a side note:  I had a little ‘play’ with the new ‘Big Boys Axe’, chopping some fairly large logs down into ‘matchwood’.  What Fun!  We have loads of logs that need splitting, so this will provide me with hours of happy entertainment!  And there’s no need to worry.  There’s an excellent A&E just down the road should I chop something off that I may very quickly regret…)

Even though the potatoes were of massively different sizes, I somehow managed to get them all cooked for about the same time.  Nobody remarked that the potatoes were particularly good this week, but then again, they were all eaten -even the Plot Kids had at least one each, and nobody said they were particularly bad.  I’m going to take that as a ‘Home Win’.  Matt had also made some truly superb vegetable soup.  This went down much faster than the potatoes!

All too soon it was home time, and as I’d left my cat Alfie out, so I was keen to get back and start feeding him his three suppers.Mitzi-Moos being coy for the camera.

Well, he is a growing lad!

Oh, and to the right here is little Mitzi-Moos, being cute and coy for the camera this morning.  Bless her.

Tomorrow morning, after doing some pretty boring work here at Wardian Towers, I’ll be back down on my Plot with Ian before lunch.  Ian is treating Diane and myself (…and whoever else turns up!..) to some of his awesome home-cooking.

And our work tomorrow?  Why, more digging of course!

…Oh, and I’ll also get some proper photos of all the other work carried out today by ‘proper’ LEAF volunteers.

Weaving, digging, painting, cooking, clearing, planting, path-laying…

And, of course, the most important job: Cat Fussing.

Well, you have to, don’t you?

Our new olive tree.

On Tuesday, I said I’d pop into ‘Wilko’s’ in Sunny Hillsborough to get an olive tree and a thermometer.The temperature is a' rising!  Well, I can report success on both fronts!  To the right here is the temperature in our greenhouse at about 1.00 this afternoon.  Not bad to say it’s only the middle of March and there are end pieces of glass that need replacing -so any light breeze blows straight through it.

And so to the olive tree.

We’d seen these in ‘Wilko’s’ the other day, and yesterday morning I went and bought one.

On getting back, I set straight to and dug a suitable hole in which to plant it.  I dug it a little wider than needs be so I could plant more of the freesia that Diane had bought me artfully around the base of the trunk.The hole dug.

To the left here you can see it before I planted.  Yes, I know its not completely round; it will need some neatening in a couple of days time.

And so, having dug the hole, I removed the olive from it’s packaging, and found it tiny!

Any thoughts of possible olives this autumn were soon dashed.  Maybe by 2017 there may be a few!Tiny olive tree!

Still, its the thought that counts, and we’ll have to safely fence it off.  We don’t want this little tree falling victim to our size ten, steel toe-capped gardening boots!

So today, Ian and I concentrated on more digging.  As I mentioned last post, we’re carrying on breaking ground towards the yellow tubing ‘folly’ at the side of the smaller greenhouse that we’ve discovered is actually paved.  Looking over the whole plot -a third of which we estimate is now dug over and planted, we can see that this area we’re digging has the highest density of the dreaded dock plants.  If we can just crack this area, we reckon we’ll have ‘broken the back’ of the serious digging.

Do I hear a cry of; ‘Famous Last Words’ at this point?!

Anyway, before we left for the day, I couldn’t help but notice a few of the tomato seeds I planted some weeks ago are starting to show.Tomato seedlings starting to show.

The one in the centre of this shot is definitely a seedling and the white one that has yet to unfurl towards the top left is one, but the lower left two are probably little weeds.

Still, it shows that the compost is viable and that stuff will grow in it.

More very soon!

As usual, Ian arrived a little early this morning but I was ready for him, so we toddled down to Hillsborough on our ‘Boys’ Shopping Trip’.

In ‘Wilko’s’ we bought some seed potatoes and huge ‘Elephant Garlic’, but couldn’t for the life of us find a suitable kettle.

Obviously, not an electric one!Shiny New Kettle

In the end, we popped over to ‘Towsure’ nearby and they had exactly what we needed.

And here it is on it’s ‘maiden use’.  We built the ‘rocket stove’ to be two full bricks wide.  This enabled us to boil the kettle, but later it allowed us to keep both the water in the kettle hot, but also keep the tea nicely ‘stewed’.  Marvellous!

So, even though I said yesterday I might make an attempt on that far hedge, we wanted to get the spuds in the ground.  We decided to dig four trenches into the area we’ve both been preparing over the last few days.

Even though we expected it, it was quite disheartening to find yet more dock plants that had escaped our onslaughts, but as the ground was so well dug over, most of them came out with very little effort.  There was however one exception.  As one point, I spotted a dock root, and started to pull.

And pull.

And…  …You get the drift.

In the end, just the root was well over four feet long!Potatoes mostly in.

In the left-most row in the photo here to the left we put ‘Roosters’.  These should be whopping great spuds suitable for baking.

In the next two and a third rows, we put ‘Pentland Javelins’.  Jon had successfully grown these last season, and he brought some up one Saturday evening for me to bake on the fire.  I can remember tasting them, then asking what they were because they were superb for baking with.

Ian has some King Edward’s left over he’ll bring in tomorrow afternoon, so we’ll finish off the last two thirds of the final row with those.

And that will be the last of our potatoes in.

Tomorrow, I have yet more business down in Sunny Hillsborough in the morning, but it will mean that I can pop back into ‘Wilko’s’ and buy a thermometer (…the one we got today was broken!) and I’m going to splash out on an olive tree.  We think it will go very nicely between the pear tree and the bay tree by the greenhouse.  They like sunny but sheltered spots, and we think this will be ideal.  Who knows, it may even give us an olive or two this autumn, and that will just take me longingly back to Cyprus with it’s olive groves and plantations.  …Sigh…

After the ceremonial tree-planting, we plan to dig over the area back towards the greenhouse from the potatoes.  More back-breaking work, but fun, nonetheless.

I may even borrow the LEAF loppers and make a start on the hedges.

We’ll have to see!


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