Where growing, making & good living come together

Taking Stock – May 2015

Posted by on Thursday 28 May 2015 in growing, making, meta | 2 comments

*cough*

*taps mic*

“Is this thing on?”

Ahem.

(Hope you’re all fine and dandy.)

—-

I’ve been spending a lot of time at the allotment recently and to make myself feel better about its still somewhat weedy paths, I wanted to look up the “before” pictures – from before I started reclaiming the plot last summer. Wow, I have come far! Still a long way to go and everything but cor, go me! ;)

While I was here, I noticed a Taking Stock post from just about a year ago and was surprised how much is the same! I thought I’d update that as a catch-up!

What I’m…

Growing: oh so much! My greenhouse has been full of seedlings for ages, but it’s only been this week or so that I’ve been happy to start planting things out. About 40 sugar snap pea plants went into the ground on Tuesday at the plot, along with a handful of runner beans & a couple of courgettes at home.

At home, I’m pretty much restricted to container growing for annual veg so it’s a lovely novelty to have beds. In typical fashion, I had to wait nearly five years on the waiting list to get my first plot – and then was offered a second* about four months later! (* We’re only allowed one plot each so the new one is officially John’s). The second plot is on the same site and is also a small one, so I’ve just over a full plot all together – maybe a plot and a third. The second plot has lovely big beds, with better soil, and lots of well established fruit – rhubarb as well as the usual berries & currants. I hadn’t planned to grow any broad beans this year but the soil was so welcoming when I went to turn it over last October that I had to plant a load – and how they’ve grown. This picture shows them against the spring sown addition.

broad bean plants

All my broad beans have been spindly in the past so I planted them close together – regretting that now!

I also overwintered onions and garlic, and sowed some early round lettuces which are nearly ready to harvest.

It’d take too long (and would be boring) to list everything I’ve got growing in the greenhouse ready to go to the plot – but if we get a mediocre crop from half of it, we’ll be very happy and swimming in veggies!

Cooking: Fancy dancy meals! Our lovely neighbours have been trying one of those not-at-all-frugal delivery services which send you exactly what you need for, say, three meals for two people – I think they’re aimed at people relatively new to cooking (though that doesn’t really describe our neighbours), to show people how easy fancy food can be. Anyway, due to a timing mishap, our neighbours had a box they couldn’t use so they gave it to us – we never say no to free food! We have most of the ingredients in the house already but it’s been fun putting them together in slightly different ways.

Away from that, I think I might have to make up a big vat of “Polish sausage and dead veg soup” at the weekend – a delicious way to clear out the fridge ahead of a shop :)

Learning: I’ve continued taking ceramics classes at a local pottery studio. I’ve been focused on decorative clay techniques this year – taking courses on a full range of techniques, then another course specialising on glazing and most recently, I’ve been learning about Coloured Clay and associated skills like inlaying and laminating. You never stop learning with ceramics!

Also, over the last few weeks, I’ve also been pressing ahead with a bit of language learning. I discovered Duolingo in the depths of winter and got stuck into learning German and refreshing my long neglected schoolgirl French. That went by the by as spring and other fun hobbies kicked in, but I’ve been pressing on of late – though focusing on the French more now. French at school was mostly focused on vocab and simple grammar – Duolingo is somewhat the reverse, focusing on sentence building, which I find more useful and I find the independent learning/gamification a lot more acceptable than the rote learning/being picked on to answer in class.

Making: Pottery aside, in typical Louisa fashion, I’m about 80% of the way through a few projects. Last month, I crocheted all the granny squares for a blanket and have whip stitched about half of them together – I need to finish the joining and edge them. Sticking with crochet, I’ve another ripple stripe blanket that has been sitting at about 80% since New Year – I’m procrastinating because it’s a variegated yarn and I can’t decide if/how to edge it. I also need to finish the last few leaves on a Jacobean crewel embroidery project.

Jacobean crewel project

Wanting: it to be a bit warmer and sunnier (just a little) – I’ve got washing on the line and the grey clouds aren’t inspiring me to head out to the plot for a cheeky session this evening.

Looking: at all the seed packets around my desk. Everything was super organised at the start of the year and is now .. not so organised.

Read More

Making a little more progress at the allotment

Posted by on Wednesday 9 July 2014 in growing | 7 comments

2014-07-09 18.53.04Taking Jono’s advice on reclaiming overgrown allotments (do it little and often), I grabbed a sneaky hour and a half at the allotment this evening.

I’d been working at my computer all day and my John was off to his singing lesson, so I thought I’d take Lily to the allotment for a while rather than for her usual walk through the woods – and I think it worked well.

I managed to get my first bed cleared of most of its weeds, concentrating on annoying deep rooting things like dandelions and creeping buttercup (of which there is more at the allotment than I first though, but nevermind, I will conquer it, I will!). All it really needs now is a proper digging over, then I can start planting in it. (I’m tempted to plant through a weed barrier, to discourage anything I’ve missed from growing back.)

I also spent a bit of time clearing the weeds around the bed – I’ve got some new scissor shears (ones with a rotating handle) so I tried cutting a DMZ around the bed – I did it rather patchily but it’s a start.

2014-07-09 19.06.19

And while I was there, I also picked our first harvest from the plot – a litre of blackcurrants. There were more but my tub was full and my “helper” wanted to go for to the park for the rest of her walk, so I’ll have to leave them ’til next time. (I might get another sneaky hour in tomorrow as John’s doing a talk in the evening. And also I left my headphones in my shed.) My blackcurrant bushes at home are desperate to be harvested too, so I think some jam making may be on the cards for the weekend, yay! :)

Read More

Allotment, end of round 1 (ding ding)

Posted by on Saturday 5 July 2014 in growing | 9 comments

While the rest of the county was watching the cycling in the sunshine, I had a few hours at the allotment this afternoon.

(I’m not going to document every second I’m down there but this visit had lots of “making big progress” picture opportunities and I thought I’d document it for my own record :) )

Though John and Lily-dog did visit me halfway through my session, I was flying solo today – and that meant the tools I could take were limited too — I didn’t fancy walking down the road with a massive scythe ;) I also thought I’d struggle with a spade & fork, and doing a lot of digging on my own would probably be unwise, so that shaped my workload: focus on hacking down the tall weeds to get a better feel for where to properly begin. I’m in no doubt that this is just round 1 of many rounds of weeding clearance before I can start using the plot in earnest!

I decided my first job should be clearing the path across the plot to the shed, else it’d get in my way for the rest of the afternoon. With a little sickle and secateurs for the thick dock & (possibly) willowherb stems, I had it passable in less than ten minutes – not perfect, but a good start!

allotment-rnd1-clearpath

(Ok, it’s kinda hard to tell from the photo since the path is still pretty green – but trust me, it’s a lot clearer. For starters, you can see the bamboo divider fence – though between that and the path, there are some narrow little beds. I’ll probably use that area for perennial herbs – there is already a healthy oregano plant at the end, and some chives too. I’ve got some rosemary, lavender & lemon balm ready to go, and will probably be able to rustle up some mint & sage as well.)

With that clear, I took a step back to look at the bigger picture. This is the greenhouse end of the plot (with the freshly cleared path to the left):

allotment-rnd1-longshot

This is where the main growing veg growing beds seem to be (though I think there are some, or could be some nice ones under the grass in the immediate foreground) so I decided to focus my attentions down there.

I – kinda – worked in a systematic way: after clearing around the pond (so that I could see it and thus minimise my likelihood of nearly falling in it again!), I cleared the metal frame area (which I’ll probably leave up as a structure for beans/peas) and then looped around in a clockwise direction. I dithered back and forth a bit but got most of the tall stuff down in the end.

There is a little bed of fruit bushes between the metal frame and the greenhouse, including the blueberry bush I found the other day. I thought its neighbour was a gooseberry bush but when I was clearing the weeds from its base, I found a label – it is in fact a rather ambitious (for Yorkshire) goji berry bush. Next to that was an even more ambitious kiwi fruit vine (which had, unsurprisingly, died) and another as-yet unidentified bush. There were no flowers or fruit on it, but its leaves look like this – any ideas? (It looks a little like wild grape, but it’s not really vine-y. Or wild.)

allotment-rnd1-mystery-fruit-bush

All of the fruit bushes – these ones and the raspberries & blackcurrants which run along the edge of the plot up to the greenhouse – should be able to breath a bit easier now I’ve whisked away their smothering weed blankets. (I stupidly forgot to take containers to collect the ripe berries & currants – I’ll go back tomorrow or Monday for them.) I’ll continue to weed around them but otherwise won’t do much with them until pruning time.

I decided to bring my (arguably short) session to an end soon after I’d cleared around the fruit bushes – my hand was cramping from tightly grasping the sickle and the compost heap looked like this:

allotment-rnd1-compost-bin

(It’s a pretty bin heap – at least a metre deep and wide, and as tall as me – but still, filled it.)

I looked back again at what I’d done:

allotment-rnd1-longshot-after

Not too bad!

Next time I can go down, I’m going to start working a little closer to the ground. I identified one bed – a nice one, about 1metre wide and 4m long, in the middle of the plot – to clear properly and dig over.

allotment-rnd1-first-bed

I can just picture a few courgette plants in there, and some nice round lettuces, and in future years, maybe some sweetcorn…. Mmmm, so many possibilities!

Read More

Yay, allotment!

Posted by on Friday 4 July 2014 in growing | 1 comment

I’ve wanted an allotment for about ten years.

For the first five years, I was constantly, mentally, a year or two away from moving from our house in Leeds so I didn’t think it was worth getting on a waiting list, then doing all the heavy work of getting a new plot, only to move away. When we finally moved to our new house in 2009, one of my first to-do items was to get on the mammoth waiting lists over here – and only five short years later, here we are, I’m an allotmenteer!

allotment-blueberries

There are two allotment sites near our house and my plot is at the closer one – it’s a smaller, less well-equipped site (eg, no piped water on site) but I’ll be walking there most of the time and I’m lazy, so swings and roundabouts ;)

I visited the site last week for a quick look around but we got to see it properly for the first time yesterday.

allotment-weeds

The plot itself is rather weedy & overgrown at the moment, and it’s pretty small too. It is officially a full plot but based on the sizes I’ve seen elsewhere, I think it’s closer to being a half-plot – I’m happy to start somewhere though.

allotment-shed-small

And aside from that, I’ve been really rather lucky – it’s got both a little greenhouse and a little shed — and when we opened the little shed door for the first time, we saw that the previous holder had even left behind some useful goodies.

(Amongst other things, two sets of shelving/staging, an assortment of hand tools, some spare roofing felt (for the shed), plenty of different netting/wire trellises, and some cute metal boxes with kittens – kittens! – on them holding labels & pens.)

Poking around amongst the weeds, I also found it’s got other useful things lying around – a good plastic storage chest, established compost heaps, materials for cloches, and four full water barrels (having water for this year was a major concern for me).

And what growing treasures I found amongst the weeds!


allotment-raspberries

allotment-blackcurrants

Ripe raspberries, heavily laden blackcurrant bushes, strawberries, what I think is a gooseberry bush and what I’m pretty sure is a young blueberry one (the picture at the top). They’ve been busy by themselves but I’m sure they’ll properly thrive with a bit of love and a bit less smothering.

There is also a little tiny pond in the centre of the plot – I found that in typical-me fashion (ie, I nearly fell into it).

allotment-pond

I’m going back tomorrow to start clearing the weeds. From what I could see, they seem to be “good” weeds – dock and grasses mostly rather than anything too invasive or spiky/stingy – and underneath them, there are some defined slightly raised beds. Time will tell if it’s all as good as it looks!

I’m sure Lily-dog will join me for some of the day – she was already helping with weed clearing yesterday:

allotment-lily-happy

“Weed clearing? You mean you weren’t just growing these grasses for me to munch? Nom nom nom!”

allotment-lily-wut

After that … well, I guess I have to get growing! Our allotment agreement stipulates that we’ll have half of it cultivated/planted-up within three months. It’s obviously a bit of an awkward time of year right now – too late to sow summer crops, too early for autumn sowing – but I’ve got some plants put by to transplant and if I can get some nice, weed-free beds sorted soon, I should be able to get some salad leaves and whatnot growing there as well. I will keep growing at home – it’s useful to have things like herbs close to hand when I’m cooking – but I’m looking forward to having better beds and being able to plant in proper rows.

Exciting times!

Any other allotmenteers got any hints or tips for a newbie like me? Or anyone got any suggestions about what I could start growing at this point in the season?

Read More

My winter to-do list 2013

Posted by on Wednesday 30 October 2013 in admin, growing, house, making | 1 comment

(I wrote this last month but for some reason it didn’t get published – I only noticed when I came to tick stuff off — I’ve actually been powering through it compared to my normal slow productivity speed!)

Every year for the last few years, I’ve written myself a “preparing for winter” list for all those jobs that have to be done before the weather turns for the worst. I’m glad I can say I’ve FINALLY finished all the ones on my 2010 and 2011 lists now – well, except for the things that need doing again — it’s only taken me two or three winters!

Garden

The garden ones are similar to previous years – the routine stuff – though an afternoon in the garden last week has already ticked off some of the usual low hanging fruit (eg, tie up the low hanging fruit bushes!).

1. Tidy up the greenhouse & take any remaining tender plants into house for overwintering – I don’t think there is anything too tender in there but I’ll check.

2. Pop all terracotta containers or plastic ones holding delicate herbs into the greenhouse (and fleece if necessary) – this is a bigger job than in previous years as I bought lots of terracotta pots in the spring.

3. Add extra chippings to chicken run – John’s dad brought a load of chippings a few weeks ago but I’ll top them up again this month. Will hopefully stop it getting too muddy and/or freezing quite so solidly.

4. Sort out the wood pile, cut more “easy grab” logs & fill kindling bins inside and out – I’m out of my Sunday morning routine of clearing out the chicken coop and chopping the week’s kindling. I need to get back into that but a kindling buffer would be good too. We also need to shuffle our logs between the different stores – some of the ones further down in the garden should be seasoned enough now to come to the near the house store. (30/10/13 -Kindling bins are full for now, and we have quite a few “easy grab” logs – just need to keep the piles stocked up.)

5. Arrange for the tree surgeon to come over – we need to trim/cut down some trees but it isn’t safe for us to do it all by ourselves. We’ll do some and he can do the rest.

House

1. Fix cat flap in the kitchen so it isn’t so draughty – the magnet that holds the flap shut has gone. Should be fixable.

2. Fix the downstairs stove – a John job rather than one for me — something needs fire cementing again. We should also replace the cracked firebrick in the upstairs stove too. (30/10/13 – John has fixed the downstairs stove. Still need a new firebrick for upstairs though.)

3. Clean out gutters at front – after the leaves fall.

4. Wash the thicker, winter duvet – I really wish I’d thought to do this over summer but even the washing involves a trip to the laundrette and summer was rather chaotic. (30/10/13 – a kitten “accident” ensured this happened at the start of October. I washed the thin summer duvet at the same time.)

4b. Re-sew feather pockets as necessary – the feathers have been migrating through holes between the pockets.

5. Move more fragile plants out of the porch – and I guess, ditch the dying annuals from the herb shelf.

Us

I’m pretty well kitted out for winter this year – last year I got a new everyday winter coat, fab new winter boots, and lots of warm socks — in fact, I can’t wait for winter in that respect!

1. New wellies for me – I’ve worn my wellies just about every day for three years now and they’re beginning to show their age – worn soles and inners, and a hole in the shoe part. They’ll be fine for pottering but I’d prefer a new pair for dog walking etc. (30/10/13 – after discovering three new holes when I wandered into the sea at Ainsdale/Southport a couple of weeks ago, I finally got my act together and got my new boots last week.)

2. Scarf (and mittens? and hat?) for John – he has reappropriated my very long scarf but I’m going to make him a little Day of The Tentacle inspired one instead. Will make matching accessories if I have enough yarn left over. (30/10/13 – I started this a couple of weeks ago – not been working on it constantly but it’s nearly there. Another few evenings should do it.)

2b. Make a jumper & cardigan for me, and maybe felted slippers for John – this are maybes more than definitelys. (30/10/13 – jumper is finished, just need to tie in ends, go me! Yarn has arrived for the jumper.)

3. Tidy out our pantry/store-cupboard cupboards to get a good idea of what we’ve got and what we need (for us and the animals) – this is a sooner-rather-than-later one so we can stock up as necessary. We order our cat and dog food online so I’ll make sure we have a spare bag in store in case there are any problems with deliveries. Chicken feed is bought locally – but they sometimes have problems getting their deliveries in bad weather so again, I’ll buy an extra bag.

4. Buy a new stick blender – our old one, which has been a faithful kitchen friend for many years now, is on its way out (think: disturbing electrical crackling from within!) and I don’t think it’ll handle another souping season without dying spectacularly, shocking us or both.

5. Make pyjamas for Mum and a blanket for Mum & Dad’s bed – share the snuggy!

What have you got to do before the cold weather kicks in?

Read More

My latest bad joke– um, I mean homage to Plot 52

Posted by on Tuesday 19 June 2012 in growing | 1 comment

Everyone already follows Plot 52, right? Fantastically sweet and funny allotment/growing illustrations – definitely one of my favourite blogs.

I thought of Plot 52 while watching three bees going about their buzzy business on my raspberry bushes the other day — clearly they weren’t just any old bees, they were …

Raspbees :)

(Greg’s pictures and jokes are *much* better, I promise ;) )

Read More