Browsing Posts published in February, 2013

Bish Bash Bosh. 28/02/13

The weathermen got it completely spot-on today.  Almost unbroken sunshine all day long, and if this keeps up, I may have to bring out the ‘Wardian Shorts’.

Don’t worry, though.  -Before I do, there’ll be plenty of warning to make sure there are no children or small, furry animals nearby.

As is the LEAF way, things started off a little slowly this morning.  Of course, after opening the sheds, the first job was the tea, and this was soon on and about to boil.

Nick from the Parson X Initiative soon arrived with his wife, then Graham and Ricky tipped up.

I then received a call from our friends at Richardson’s DIY over in Firth Park to say they were dropping off the new stobs, so I had to see Anne to get the keys for the trading hut so we could get some scaffolding boards out that she had very kindly agreed to store for us.

Today would be a Bed Making Day!

Nick, Graham and Ricky and I then brought up eight decent lengths of scaffolding, and I showed them all how easy it is to make a bed using the method we’d used last weekend.New Bed!

It didn’t take us long to whack it all together, and you can see it ‘in the raw’ in the shot to the right here.

Today, I was much more conscious of my ‘hammering action’.  Last Saturday, I’d been a little ‘over enthusiastic’ and as I’d had hammered some of the nails in, my forearms were at some pretty odd angles.  While I didn’t notice this at the time, over the next few days, my left thumb (…I’m a ‘south paw’…) swelled up pretty dramatically, leading to a trip to the GP on Monday morning, followed by a five hour wait in the casualty department of the local hospital for x-rays.  Luckily nothing broken, just some stern advice about how to hammer properly.

Well, I took the doctor’s advice, and so far this evening, no twinges like last week.

So, back to the matter in hand, and this bed will need a few external stobs to keep the sides and the ends from bowing.  We’ll get these whacked in on Saturday morning.

At one point, Graham told Gary -who’d just arrived- that we needed to move the bed because the ‘weather station’ was right in the middle of it.  Luckily, he got the joke, because even Gary with all his massive strength would have a hard time moving this bed.  Not only does all the wood weigh a lot, but each corner has about two feet of stob directly into the earth!

One of the first jobs on Saturday will be for eager volunteers to paint this entire bed with ‘our’ green paint, and that should provide a lot of enjoyment for whoever wants to do this.  The bed we finished last Saturday also needs at least another coat or four, so I reckon there’s hours of happy fun to be had slapping it all over.

Unfortunately, I had to go down town this afternoon on far less fun business, so we had to shut up right on time, but you can be sure that come Saturday, we’ll all be back, eager to get this bed finished, then we’ll have the fun task of deciding just what we want to grow in it.

Current popular suggestions are fast-growing salad stuff, but with a line of nice flowers down the centre to break up the lines.  This sounds ideal, but there will be more chats about this on Saturday over one or more of the many cups of tea.

And the weather?  Why, it’s set to be a degree or so hotter than today!

Bring on the Spring!  …And here’s to a cracking Summer!

A slight change of plan. 27/02/13

I said last post that we’d be getting on with the second new bed today, but due to a mix-up (…mea culpa…), we didn’t have the stobs for the corners or side panels in time, but I’m assured they will arrive tomorrow.

So instead, while Ian planted a whole bed of two different types of onions, I got on with giving the bed we’d finished last time its first coat of ‘One Coat*‘ paint.Before painting

As you can see from the photo to the right here, even though all the boards are basically sound, they certainly looked a little on the scabby side.

I found the tins of paint and paintbrushes, and was very soon happily painting away.  I always find that using this paint is very ‘therapeutic’.  It’s water-based, completely non-toxic, and dead good fun to slap on.

The results, while not quite good enough for, say, the Sistine Chapel, are quite good enough for the folks (…and cat…) here at LEAF.Not quite the Sistine Chapel.

Of course, one of my first jobs was making the tea, and once again, the Kelly Kettle came into its own, and I can thankfully say that despite having three cups each, we didn’t have to resort to using the expensive gas hob.Tea's up!

Now we’re starting to get familiar with its little ‘foibles’, we find that setting and successfully lighting it is getting easier and easier.

While I was happily painting, Ian (no relation) was busy on a new bed Gary and I had sorted out on the Therapy Plot, planting two different types of onions.  They’d been sat in bags, quietly going rotten for months, but Ian picked out the best ones and planted them.  Okay, some might not come up, but no worries;  -we can always plant something in their place.  We all agree that the main thing is to get stuff planted!

Jon soon arrived, and he dug over and pre-prepared a bed that will hopefully have parsnips in in the not too distant future.Pre-Prepared for Parsnips

This digging may look ‘rough’, but that’s exactly the way it’s meant to look.  We are no doubt due more than a couple more early morning frosts before Spring finally arrives, so digging this way will help the soil break down naturally.

I couldn’t help noticing that this, along with quite a few other beds, needs re-painting at some point in the near future.  Maybe a Saturday job for someone?

So once again, a quiet day down our Plots, but we still got loads done -probably because there were so few interruptions from visitors!

Tomorrow, the weather looks set to be even nicer than today.  The BBC weather service reckon the Sheffield 5 will have virtually unbroken sunshine all day.

We say:  Bring it on!

*Advertised as ‘One Coat’, we find this paint only gets to the right thickness and finish after five, possibly six coats, but there you go.  It’s fun to put on, though!

…is definitely crawling into the shower when you get home, battered, bruised, muddy and so, so coooold!

We didn’t have many volunteers today, what with the weather being so freezing and the frequent snow showers that had been forecast, but the few of us who did tip up certainly made up for the lack of man-power by working hard enough for many.

Today’s main job was the finishing of the first raised bed on the top Plot.  This would be edged with the scaffolding planks that Diane bought many months ago, and for the first time, we decided to build it three planks high.P1010086

On Thursday, we’d cut the planks, but couldn’t seem to get them to fit properly until one of us had a brain-wave.  We’d build the sides up first, then join them with the middles.

But first, we had to dig out most of the soil from inside that we’d mistakenly put there on Thursday.

This only took about a half an hour, and was absolutely back-breaking work, but we didn’t mind as it kept us warm!

With the excess soil out of the way, we took long ‘stobs’ for the corners and laid them underneath the ends of the planks which had been taken out and laid up neatly.

Then, using some nails that Gary happened to have, we nailed the stobs to each end.

Then it was a simple job to gently lift the boards, now joined together at their ends with stobs, get it all correctly positioned, then hammer the stobs into position.

The photo up to the right shows the first side piece in place, and you can see that we are in the middle of hammering the ready-cut ends into position.  With both ends nailed on, we could then make sure it was all square, then simply do the trick with the two stobs and three lengths of planking for the other side.

The result?P1010101

Okay, this is after we’d refilled it with soil, but as you can see, all the ends now match up perfectly

The only slight area of concern is that there are only single outer stobs holding the sides in, and we figure that within a few months, these will start to bow out alarmingly.

Well they won’t, because before then, we’ll put extra supports down the sides and also on the bottom end.

Oh, and it will also need three or four coats of our special non-toxic green paint, but if there are Plot Kids around next weekend, I’m sure they’d love to finish it all off.

Oh, and a Very Special Thanks to Sara today!

She brought down a pan’s worth of beef stew (…with absolutely no horse shoes in!..), and we all mightily enjoyed this!

On such a cold day, it was perfect for keeping us warm and providing ‘fuel’ to keep us going!

And I mustn’t forget to mention Pam.  While we were whacking great lumps of wood about, then shifting tonnes of earth, she was very patiently weeding out the top bed up by the path on the same Plot, and as we left tonight, she was still hard at it, finishing off planting more onions, carefully watched-over by Gary, who’d stayed to see to Jon’s chickens.  Thank you, Pam!

So, all in all, a fairly quiet day, but we had already agreed on what we needed to do, and we did it.

(…Of course, along with feeding Mitzi-Moos and drinking loads of tea from our new Kelly Kettle!..)

Next time?  Ha!  Another three planks high bed of course, right next to this one!

Re-making the beds. 21/02/13

“Go and make your bed!”  Possibly the kind of thing you’d tell a teenager, but this was just what we were doing yesterday.

Again, the weather, while not actually snowing, was pretty cold, and again, if you stopped for more than a couple of seconds, you could feel yourself ‘setting’.

I arrived first, and wasted no time in getting the kettle on, obviously fed the cat, then surveyed what needed doing.

Primarily, this was the other long bed on the top Plot, then we had to make new sides for the new beds just below.P1010079

Here is a shot of Ian working on the side while Graham and Jon stand keeping a careful eye on matters.

Meanwhile, Gary was hard at work on that long bed.

Previously, this has had the dreaded strawberries in and not much else.P1010077

Well, this weekend, we plan to plant a load of fruit bushes in a similar manner to Jon & Pam’s work the other week on the top-most bed.  There’ll be no sides on this bed, so it’ll be set at exactly path height.  This is to discourage slugs and other would-be fruit predators.

On Saturday, I’ll get some more shots of this as it takes shape, and I’m sure you’ll agree it’ll look good when it’s done.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…P1010084

…And the first of the two beds was taking shape.

We’ve decided that this bed and the one behind it should be three scaffolding planks high.  This will be for our less able volunteers who want to garden, but don’t want to be bending right over to do so.  When more soil is added in a few days time, you’ll see that these will be the perfect height.

Anyway, this Saturday with hopefully more volunteers, we can crack on and get things moving.

More then!

Our new best ever ‘toy’ certainly earned its place on the LEAF allotments today.

Of course, I’m talking about the new Kelly Kettle, and as soon as I’d arrived, I fed ‘Her Majesty’ (Why, Mitzi, of course!), and got straight on with the most important job of the day which was getting the first brew on.

Again, it was incredibly easy to do, and within minutes, the water was merrily boiling, threatening to spill out of the top.

Gary was already hard at work on his Plot next door, so I shouted him that tea was up.

Ian (no relation) soon arrived, then Matt, then Jon, and so the five of us quickly got the cups and tea-makings out, and were soon enjoying a warming brew.

And we certainly needed warming!  Today it was one of those days where if you stop for only a few minutes, you start to feel the chill, so we quickly got down to work on the top Plot, rearranging and planning out new beds and features.P1010067

To the right here are the two remaining beds on the top Plot.  Gary has taken out the one nearest the top shed, and these two will have new sides put on them some time tomorrow.  We already have the ex-scaffolding planks that Diane thoughtfully bought last year and they’re stored in the ‘trading hut’ further down the site.

When the beds are done, they’ll be slightly shorter than before as a standard length scaffolding plank is about 4 inches shorter, and we’re not cutting four inch chunks of wood just for this.  They’ll also be very slightly narrower.  As Matt worked out, we can get three ‘ends’ to one length of board, so that will minimise the amount of wastage created by the cutting.P1010070

Here are those two same beds at a slightly different angle, and if you’re particularly eagle-eyed, you can just make out the large aluminium vacuum flask sat on the table.

We’ve had two of these flasks for a couple of years, and never really used them, apart from large social gatherings, but today we used the pair of them to great effect.

Yes, fresh tea does need freshly boiled water, but instant coffee doesn’t, and neither does the washing up afterwards!

The Kelly Kettle itself is sat out of sight in front of one of the tables on the same stump we used yesterday.

Tomorrow, we’ll hopefully have a few more volunteers, and if we do, we plan to finish off the boarding for those new beds, then we may well plant some more onions, both reds and whites.

In the meantime, there’s sure to always be fresh tea on the go!

Imagine, if you will, a group of five little boys let out by their parents for the afternoon.

(…These ‘little boys’ are myself, Ian (no relation), Gerry, Gary and Matt…)

And it’s a brilliantly sunny late spring early spring day, with hardly a cloud in the sky.  The snow drops are just starting to show their heads, and the daffodils are full of promise.

And these little boys have been ‘given’ a new toy to play with for the afternoon!

They are all tremendously excited, even though a couple aren’t actually showing it yet -they’re trying to ‘stay cool’, but there is definitely something afoot.

And what is this amazing new toy they have to play with?

Why, ’tis a brand-spanking-new ‘Kelly Kettle‘, Dear Reader!

We’ve been threatening to order one for years, but last week, I took the plunge and ordered one from eBay.  Click on the link above, and you’ll be magically taken, by the power of the InterWebs to their page.P1010058

Well, we found some pretty dry wood and a little kindling, and got it lit -ridiculously easily.

As soon as it was barely going, we whacked the top of it on -already filled with 1.5 litres of fresh water.

The water actually goes in the hole at the top left hand side -not the very top.  Put it in there, and you’ll put the fire out!

The idea is that there is a column running from top to bottom for the smoke to escape from.

It also acts as a chimney, meaning it draws air in through the bottom -the ‘chimney effect’.There she blows!

The photo to the left here is just after it was lit, before the smoke properly cleared away as it got up to temperature.

When you pop the top full of water into the base with the fire in, you have to make sure there is a good seal between the two halves -this is to ensure good airflow.

You can then feed sticks and other pieces of wood through the hole in the top where the smoke is coming out.

This picture to the right is it in full flow.  Things to notice are just how little smoke the thing makes -after the initial cloud, but we also were completely flabbergasted by just how quickly this thing boiled two litres of water.There she blows!

Less than five minutes, and it was threatening to boil out and down the sides!

Awesome!

Note also that you should only put enough wood in for a short burn.  If you over fill it with fuel, when you lift the water from the fire pan, the sticks and twigs tend to fall out all over everywhere.

Also, when lifting it from the fire pan, you should use the handle and the chain with the cork to lift it off, as it gets very hot very quickly.

Oh, and the chain and cork are only for when you’re storing it.  If you try to fill it with water, then firmly put the cork in, you are in effect making yourself a steam bomb!

And the end result of all this fun?

In about five minutes, we had more than a teapot’s-worth of boiling hot water to make our tea.P1010062

And the taste of that tea at the end of it all?

Brilliant!

Note only was it full-flavoured and tea-like, but it was free of charge to make!

We’ll certainly be using this very frequently.

In other news, I had a brief ‘wander’ around the top Plot, ostensibly to inspect Gary’s superb digging and weeding, and couldn’t help buy notice that the daffodils and crocii Jon and Pam planted are just starting to shoot.P1010063

A week or so more, and they may be ready to flower.

All further signs that the dreadful winter is about done, and we can look forward to a better summer than last year.

More fun and frolics tomorrow evening after a ‘full’ afternoon’s Plotting…

The Headless Chickens. 16/02/13

No, we haven’t killed Gary’s cockerel!

No, I’m referring to the two hours of utter madness we endured this morning as the skip was delivered.

After our efforts in clearing out the top shed, the metal shed and all the piles of black bags by the far hedge, we’d promised ourselves a nice, large skip to whack it all into.

However, LEAF being LEAF, there were, of course, problems.

Firstly, the skip lorry, which arrived bang on time at 10.30, couldn’t reverse down our driveway -it was too large.  This meant that the driver had to leave the skip inside the car parking area about 800 yards away from where our bags were -with a fairly steep dip in the middle.

Also, we pretty quickly realised that we had an awful lot of black bags to go, and there was no way they’d all fit in.

Anyway, two hours of literally running with full-to-bursting (and very heavy!) bin bags on wheelbarrows, and we’d just about got rid of them all.

The skip was, er…  kind of full-to-bursting, and I’m sure that when the guy comes to pick it up, there’ll be some choice words about not overfilling it quite so badly.

But, that’s for another day, so I’m not worrying about it right now.

So why were we in such a rush to get it filled?

Well Dear Reader, as soon as our fellow plot-holders found out about it, they were very keen to fill it themselves with all their own crap!  Ha!  They should try to get anything into it now!

As a rule, because skips are so expensive -what with the new environmental laws and all- everyone thinks they can ‘just put a bag or two in and it won’t hurt, will it?’

Well not with this skip!  We’ve paid good money for it, and we’ll not be happy if anyone tries it on with extra ‘baggage’.

After all this fun, involving Matt, Gary, Gerry, Jordan and myself, we just needed a cup of tea.

Of course, then more people started to show up -just as all the hard work was over for the day!

Anyway, Matt and myself made a very quick ‘mess’ of pasta and three different types of beans, and in the afternoon, Gary carried on emptying a bed that’s no longer needed while I went home for the onions, shallots and broad bean seeds I’d forgotten in the rush this morning.P1010057

Sara wasted no time in helping out with the food and inevitable cups of tea.

To the right here is that bed Gary was working, and you can see the wheelbarrow full of weeds ready for composting.

When I returned, Carol had brought her two granddaughters, so between us all, we managed to plant two different varieties of onions and I planted four rows of broad beans.

As we finished about 4.30, Gary was carrying on clearing the bed, and when I’m over tomorrow to see to the bees, I’ll get some more shots of it.  I’ll also get some of our planting, and maybe even one of the bulging skip?!

So, a very busy day down at LEAF, and to be honest, Dear Reader, I could crawl under the duvet right now, I’m that tired!

Unfortunately, I’ve got a ton of other stuff to do before I can call it a day, but no worries. -I’ll certainly sleep tonight!

Just for a change: It’s snowing again.

So even though I dutifully went down The Plots today, apart from Jon and Mitzi, no-one else tipped up.

Which is not really surprising, given the weather and all.

A quick cup of tea for Jon and I, and no less than three sachets of food for little Mitzi-Moos, and we decided to call it quits.

But, the good news was that we were able to enjoy our tea in the top shed!

The weathermen say that tomorrow it should be much better, so more news then…

Worst of the snow? 09/02/13

Yes, last post I said; ‘…with hopefully the worst of the snow out of the way.’

Well unfortunately, it looks like it isn’t -we’ve another dollop on the way (…an official meteorological word, that…) in the early hours tonight, and all day tomorrow.

Still, we are soooo LUCKY!  Over in Up-State New York, now they’ve got it baaad!

So, in lieu of the snow, today was billed as a shed-clearing day.  I’d mentioned it at the last Management Meeting, to looks of utter disbelief.

“Clearing the top shed?  Uh-Oh.  No way!”

Well, Dear Reader, today the top shed was completely emptied!P1010039

The shot on the right is as we were just starting.  There’s a bit of stuff out of it, but nothing to write home about.  You certainly couldn’t use it as a ‘proper’ shed -for meetings and sheltering from the rain.  Well, not unless you were a cat.

Over the last few years, our top shed had become something of a joke -to both volunteers and to any visitors, and we’ve all been guilty of just ‘putting stuff in’, more to get it out of the way than to actually store anything useful.  …Or ‘find-able’.

We’ve all been guilty of this.

So today, we’ve made a start on getting it all cleared out and fit for people to use.  As I’ve already said, this could be to get out of the inevitable rain, but it will also be used for indoor activities like potting on, and even candle rolling in autumn ready for the Christmas Candle-fest.

One of our volunteers, Gerry, said we could even hire it out for local groups to use -for things like art and photography classes.

We like these ideas.Mess

Thankfully, we had a good selection of volunteers today to help make this happen.

We kicked off with the inevitable quick cup of tea, then donned our gloves, and got stuck in.

The first job was getting it completely empty, and that must have taken us three hours.

By then it was lunchtime, so we had a very quick lunch, then we all got back to our tasks.

Barry was in charge of the fire today, burning more than I think we’ve ever burned in one session.  Ian (no relation) and I were carting stuff from the shed while Pam and Julie alternated between moving stuff out, or sorting through to see if there was anything worth saving.

We also found massive evidence of rats or mice (…Remind me to ‘have a word’ with Mitzi.  She’s been slacking on the job…), so everything that might have been edible was firmly bin-bagged up and thrown.  By their very nature, mice and other vermin, are incontinent, so anything and everything edible had to be thrown away.Jon & Julie with underlay.

To the right here is about half way through.  Jon and Julie are rolling up underlay to be thrown.  This was after nearly everything had been removed.

As the afternoon wore on and the light faded, we were left to sweeping up then putting stuff back in.

Now, you’re thinking “Aaaah!  Everything went back in!”

No, Dear Reader, it most certainly did not!Room to swing a cat.

As you can see by this shot to the left, yes, some stuff had to go back in, but by far the vast majority stayed firmly out!

Yes, it means that outside the shed, it looks like Steptoe’s Yard, but come next weekend, that will all be gone.

P1010051

Then, the work can really start.

Today Matt made a great job of hammering a piece of heavy tin over the mouse hole right in the middle of the floor.  Next, we have to fix a hole in the roof, then we have to damp-proof it, then insulate it.

I then have to wire up our new low-voltage lighting circuit, so even after dark we’ll be able to see.

Then, we have to get some carpets down and maybe some curtains for the windows, then…

…you get the idea.

I see this, not as an ‘end’, but more as a ‘beginning’.

Keep this frequency clear for more exciting news, as it happens!

A winter ‘check-up’.

Today, Charles, our head beekeeper came over to check on our hives.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost a couple of colonies over the cold period, but that leaves us with three -the same number we started out with last year, so we’re not too downhearted.

Last week, Jon and myself had put a couple of feeders on the two ‘main’ hives.  When we checked today, one of the feeders was entirely empty, but the other one hadn’t been touched, but as Charles said, that particular hive was left with masses of capped honey, and with the cold weather we’ve been having lately, the bees would rather tuck into this, rather than the long, cold climb up to the feeder.

So today, we warmed up the syrup in the one that hadn’t been touched, then warmed up some fresh for the hive that had taken it all.

Generally, Charles is pretty happy with our bees, and if Charles is happy, then we’re happy.

Next week, Jon and I will check the feeders again, and top up as necessary.

In the meantime, Bring On The Spring!

Yes, snow is great for Big Kids like myself, maybe for a day or two, but to be honest, the older I get, the less I can stand the cold, wet and miserable stuff that gets thrown on us every year.

Will this summer be any better?  No-one knows, but first, let’s get the Spring underway!


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