Tuesday, 29 June 2010

A 13 inch whopper!

Last week we issued a share offer for the co-operative eco shop that we're hoping to open.  This means we're offering people a chance to buy a £25 share in the shop.   We need to raise £15k in shares, to get the shop up and running.  After 1 week we've already raised £3500, and we've got another 3 weeks to raise the remaining amount.  We've sent out press releases to the media to try and promote the offer to local people.  I really hope we hit the target.  Currently there aren't any shops in town where people can buy eco/organic or fair trade products, other than the supermarket, so the shop would be a great addition to the town, and it'll be a positive step in fighting back against big supermarkets, whilst helping to strengthen the local retail economy.

We had a bottle of Anciano red wine on Friday, this is a Spanish wine, oak aged for 3 years.  It was nice, but a bit vinegary.  I would love to buy the £15 bottle of Rioja on the top shelf at the shop.  When it's my birthday I might just treat myself.  I just want to know if expensive wine actually tastes better!

I went to Accrington and Rossendale College on Friday afternoon to meet the lady that runs the Horticulture course.  We went into their polytunnel for an informal chat about the things the course covers.  I think I'd enjoy the diploma, but I'm not sure if it would enhance my career prospects much, she said it would give me all the training I would need to work in a park, but working in a park isn't what I want to do.  So I'll see how it goes at the open day at Myerscough College next Saturday, when I go and see about the Foundation Degree in Ecology.  I would really like to do a degree in sustainability as this is something I feel very passionate about.  It ticks a lot of boxes for me, it's environmentally friendly, but is also about people consuming less, thinking about the effects of their actions.  Can't find any suitable courses locally though.

We finally finished the back garden on Saturday and I love it!  The flowers look ace, Chris got rid of the grass between the paving and painted the white bits of brickwork.  It looks perfect and I'm really happy with it.  As everything grows it's just going to look better and better.  This sunny weather is really bringing things along nicely.  Loads of bees and butterflies are visiting the garden too, much to Steve French's annoyance, as he think it's his job to guard the flowers from insects and attacks anything that comes into view.   Over the past few weeks he's brought in about 10 dead mice, all with their heads missing!  Maybe one day I'll find a pile of rotting mice heads stashed somewhere. Ewww!

Quickly changing subject... The hanging baskets are all doing well.

The Livingstone Daisies are lovely and bright.

The borage is in bloom and the bees dig it.

The mint is taking over, nothing new there. Time to make some mojitos!

The rose bush has produced 2 roses.

A nasturtium seed from one of last year's plants has started growing in the remains of a metal tube in our paving.

Check out my rock garden.

In the afternoon I went to see my Grandma with my Mum.  My Grandma fell down on Friday and banged her head so we went to see how she was.  She had a bump on her head but seemed fine, but she was looking a bit thin.  She's 87 and has dementia and lives in a residential home.

My Mum gave us a table and 2 chairs for our back garden, and we made the most of the lovely sunny day and sat outside and had quiche and salad and the rest of the red wine.

On Sunday I was down at the plot on my own as Chris went to our friend Emma's house to fit a glossy new white ceiling in her bathroom.  I gave everything a good watering because it hasn't rained for weeks now.  The pumpkins in the greenhouse are still flourishing, they're huge, one of the varieties is called Rocket F1 and it's certainly living up to its name.  I weeded the raised beds and onions, and the top greenhouse too.  I sowed some radish and some spring onions, and cropped some strawberries, radish, a lettuce and three beetroots.  I also sowed some more french and borlotti beans in the gaps next to the canes, where seeds previously sown hadn't germinated, or plants had died.  I also sowed some french beans under the sweetcorn in the greenhouse so that I've got a three sisters bed (sweetcorn, squash and beans).  The squashes' large leaves will help suppress weeds, and the beans will use the sweetcorn as a support to climb up.  I think the Native Americans used this technique and it worked well for them, as the crops work in partnership with one another.

After the allotment I went home to sit outside in the sun (on my new chair/table) and listened to the World Cup England vs Germany match on the radio.  England lost 4-1, but I wasn't bothered.  I was happy just chilling in the sun and admiring how cool the garden looks.

Back in the greenhouse at my Mum's I pinched out the growing tips of the cucumbers, melon and aubergines - the plants have grown loads thanks to the sunny weather we've had recently.  I even had to move some chillies and peppers onto the greenhouse floor to make room on the staging.  There still aren't any red tomatoes.  I fed the tomatoes with seaweed and epsom salts (for flavour and to stop the leaves yellowing).  I picked the first cucumber - which was a real whopper at 13 inches long and it tasted lovely and fresh.

On Monday night we finally got some rain - it chucked it down during the night and I was woken up by thunder and lightning.  The garden desperately needed some rain, but the water authority have said it won't affect the threat of a hose pipe ban in the near future.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Damson in distress

On Friday I made a salad using the mixed salad leaves that I've grown in a large terracotta pot in the back garden.  They tasted very fresh and crunchy, miles better than the stuff in bags from the supermarket.

I haven't done a wine review for a while, but this week we had a Spanish wine - Vina Albani 2002 Gran Reserva.  It was a weak blood red colour, and the taste wasn't great.  It was OK, but I won't be buying it again.  I had a wine last week that was good - but I can't remember its name, I'll buy it again, and do a review.

On Saturday, after rebuilding a stone wall, Chris painted my mum's fence, and he wasn't finished until 9pm.  So that was a 13 hour shift on a Saturday, after a full week at work.  I keep telling him he needs to rest, but he's relentless at the minute.  On Sunday he was up again at 7am glossing all the metal work in the garden, then laying the last 3 flags in the patio at the allotment.  The patio's finished now, and we're really pleased with it.

Chris also put 2 trellises up in the back garden and I planted out the morning glory.

Down at the allotment, I rescued the damson in distress from a sea of nettles that came out of nowhere and completely swamped the space around the damson tree.  I managed to escape with only one nettle sting, which was pretty good going considering how many nettles I cleared.  I always think you never get away with weeding nettles, same with brambles too, they always manage to sting or prickle you in an act of revenge. I didn't clear the brambles though, they weren't obstructing the damson tree, and I think it's worth keeping them for the blackberries in August.

In the afternoon I potted up a sunflower, a misc. shrub,  I took the herbs out of the elephant plantpots, as they weren't doing very well due to the plantpots drying out, and potted up a mixed pot of herbs each for me and my Mum. 

It was Father's Day on Sunday, and I visited the memorial garden at the allotment.

I weeded under the tomatoes, squash and peas and beans.  I put up some netting above the peas for the plants to climb up. 

The brassicas look well.

The kale and spinach are catching up.

Down at the allotment and in the greenhouse at home, there are lots of green tomatoes, but no red ones.  The epsom salts worked well on getting rid of the yellow tomato leaves at the allotment and all the tomato plants look strong and healthy.

Some of the big outdoor strawberries are starting to ripen.  There are lots of gooseberries and blackcurrants waiting to ripen too.  The garlic has started to flop which means it's nearly ready to harvest.

The sweetcorn is thriving and getting bigger, and the pumpkins in the bottom greenhouse are getting bigger by the day.  

The beans and peas have picked up and are also doing well.

The courgettes, marrows and squash haven't done much yet, hopefully they'll pick up soon. 

The onions aren't as swollen as we'd hoped - it's probably the lack of rain.  A few sent up a flower shoot so we snapped them off, and we've been trying to watering them more to make them bigger.

The raised beds are filling up.

The first early potatoes have flowered.

The peaches are getting bigger, but haven't changed colour yet.

I've got a 7 inch cucumber in the greenhouse at home - the cucumbers are producing lots of fruit at the minute.

The other plants in pots in the greenhouse at home are growing very fast thanks to the warm weather and I need to water them everyday.

Len came to see us to ask if we're interested in forming an allotment association.  I think this is a good idea and the launch is on the 10th July at 11am at his sister's plot.

There are hundreds of bees congregated on a tree at the back of the allotment.  I don't know what kind of tree it is, but there are little blossom buds on it.  They don't seem to be bees from the community garden's hive, as they're meant to have brown coloured bottoms, and the bees on the tree have white fluffy bottoms.  There's a distinct hum coming from the tree once you get near it.

I spotted a song thrush at the allotment on Saturday, a lovely pale beige coloured bird with a spotty belly.

On Sunday night we went to our friend Leah's midsummer eve party.  I took a home grown lettuce and a bottle of home made organic plum wine, which my friend fondly refers to as moonshine!

On Monday night, the shop held an event to issue £25 shares in the co-operative.  We need to raise £15,000 to get the shop off the ground.  There wasn't many people at the launch, probably because the local media overlooked our press release, but we're not giving up hope and there's another month or so to continue raising funds.

I realised I haven't really bought anything other than food all month, so I treated us to a new toaster as our old one went bust, and I'm missing not having toast.  Looking forward to a bumper toast session once it arrives.

Monday, 14 June 2010

A bee log on my b-log

I met up with my old school friend Michelle on Thursday night.  She's just kicked her husband out after finding out he'd been cheating on her, so I went round for a chat and to see how she was doing.  We ordered a Chinese take away and I opted for a veggie kung po, noodles and banana fritters.  Mmmm.

On Friday lunchtime, I went to visit another old friend, Lisa, with my Mum.  Lisa's mum Kath was there too.  Lisa was one of the first people I made friends with, and we've lots of happy memories of playing out together as youngsters, and getting up to no end of mischief. We went to Lisa's house for coffee and sat outside in the sun, and I got to meet her two children.

On Friday night we went to a housewarming party at our friend Dunc's new house.  His house is cool, and there's an amazing panoramic view from his back garden, you can see Longridge and Pendle Hill.  We even saw a kestrel hovering over the fields.

On Saturday, another long overdue task got crossed off my list.  I planted out the bedding plants in the front and back gardens.  Most of the borders have a row of nicotiana (marshmallow, sylvestris and lime) along the back so I hope this pans out alright.  Nicotiana are scented flowers that open at night, and I've planted loads of them.  They're meant to grow between 60cm - 120cm tall.  So our garden might end up smelling very floral in the evenings, so I hope the neighbours won't mind. The scent will probably attract lots of moths and nocturnal insects.  At the front of the borders I've got small bedding plants e.g. livingstone daisies, pansies, brachycome, nemophila and lobelia.  And mixed in between verbena bonariensis, larkspur, cosmos, and then the sweet peas climbing up the fence behind.

Chris went to our friend Emma's in Manchester to price up a job and on the way home he nipped in Paperchase and got me the Food Friends recipe book, which I really wanted, as well as some storage tubs and stickers from the new Travel Buddies range (which is like Food Friends but travel themed).  He also got me 2 Kid Robot Yummy Breakfast keychains - cinnamon swirl bun and pizza slice.

On Sunday morning we went to the flea market and I picked up 3 craft books for 50p each.

I was down at the allotment on Sunday afternoon and everything's growing well.  The peaches are swelling and some of the sweetcorn is over a foot high.  The weather has been very warm and unusually dry, and there's already talk of a hose pipe ban, which could make watering tricky down at the allotment.

After 3 years of anticipation, the passion flower has finally flowered.  The blooms are amazingly intricate.  Well worth the wait in my opinion, and there are still lots more buds waiting to open.

I finally got round to weeding the brassica patch, which desperately needed some attention.  It looks great now, and the plants are coming along nicely.  They're a lovely green colour and full of life.  Some of the plants were touching the netting so I've hitched it up a little higher to give them room to grow.  I'm not sure if the top row are cauliflowers or cabbages, as I got the plug plants free off Lynne, but no doubt all will be revealed in due course.

The path into the allotment is currently edged with swathes of gorgeous blue cornflowers.

Our friends Stef and Jo visited the allotment last week.  Jo's 8 months pregnant, and Chris showed them around the plot.  They picked some lettuce, gooseberries and rhubarb to take home.  I think they liked the allotment, but they're a couple of hippies, so I guessed they might be in to it.  They gave us a lovely gift for our allotment - a pollinating bee log, for solitary bees to live in over winter.  I'm looking forward to putting it up and seeing if anyone makes a home in there.

I'm knitting a hat for Stef and Jo's baby.

I think some wasps may have moved into the birdhouse, as I keep seeing them popping in and out.

At long last, some birds have been brave enough to use Chris's bird table in our back garden.  We spotted some pigeons on there the other day, stuffing their faces with the food we'd left for them.  Since then I've seen four pigeons on the table (it's not that big, so it was a bit of a squeeze for them) and a starling was sat on the fence watching them.

Chris has built a large paved patio area outside of the shed.  I ordered 24 paving slabs, which got delivered to the end of the allotment path and we had to carry them up to our allotment (Chris did most of the carrying because they weigh an absolute tonne).  He then levelled off the ground before laying the flags, which was quite a big job.  But it looks really professional and tidy, and now we have a patio area to chill out, have barbecues and general sit back and admire our hard work.

As for me, well I've been thinking about career options, and maybe doing a degree course.  I need a change, and I need it now, but I can't decide which course to do.  This has been a problem for many years - not knowing what I want to do with my life.  The great unanswered question! Gardening would be an obvious choice, but there isn't a part time degree in gardening available locally.  I've been considering a degree in Ecology and Conservation Management, or a non-degree course in horticulture.  I'm still making my mind up.  But something needs to change, I can't carry on in the same boring job I'm doing at the moment.  I want to help people or the environment through my job, and my current role is just fluffing up words, to make people think things are better than they are.  I have a lot of energy to give to a good cause, but at the moment I am gagging for a new challenge, and something to feel passionate about.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A week off work to catch up with it all!

I had the week off work last week in order to try and get lots of jobs done.   I planted out the chillies, cucumbers, melons and sweet peppers into the top greenhouse.  I've tried some chillies in bottomless pots due to having so many bottomless pots.  Last year they seemed to grow too big and unmanageable in the border soil, so I wondered if the bottomless pots might control their growth.

Len suggested I spray the tomatoes in the bottom greenhouse with diluted epsom salts to try and correct the magnesium deficiency, which is making the bottom leaves go yellow.  I tried it and it seemed to help, and I also diluted the epsom salts in warm water and then watered the tomatoes with the solution.  I think the leaves have recovered and don't seem to be as yellow.

The greenhouse at home is completely sorted now.  All the plants have been shipped out and hardened off.  All that remains are the chillies, melon, cucumbers and peppers in pots.  Plus the lonely watermelon (only one seed successfully germinated and grew).

The greenhouse tomatoes in the grow bags at home are doing very well.  There are no yellow leaves and they're a very dark green colour, with thick robust stems and curled up new leaves (apparently a healthy sign).  The first few baby tomatoes have appeared, but no red ones yet.

I earthed up the potatoes on 31st May, this was hard work, I weeded between the rows first then pulled up the earth.  I'd let the haulm grow too high (about 9 inch), I think it would have been easier to earth up potatoes with a shorter haulm.

Into the rough patch at the top of the allotment I planted out the squashes - courgettes, marrows and pumpkins.  I also planted out the cavolo de nero kale and spinach.  And I gave Jim the Builder some kale to try, and Len some razamataz chillies - one for him and one for his sister

I planted out the beans - they'd outgrown their pots and didn't look too healthy.  For future reference, they only take 2-3 weeks to get to about 6 inch high, so it's not worth sowing them too early as they can't be planted out until the end of May.  I also sowed some more peas and beans underneath the ones already planted out.

The gooseberries are getting bigger - I tried one but it tasted very tart.

I planted up all of the hanging baskets and containers with the bedding plants from the greenhouse - this took some time as I tried to work out which plants would look best together.

I made a start on planting out some of the bedding plants in the flower borders at home.

I fed and watered all the cacti.

My beautiful greenhouse lettuce bolted and became infested by whitefly!  The hot weather last weekend finished it off - gutted!  I should have eaten it earlier.  We've been eating the outdoor lettuce though, and these have been delicious, along with the very peppery outdoor radish.  We've also been eating the alpine strawberries.

It would have been my Dad's 71st birthday on 30th May, so Chris built a memorial garden out of bricks at the back of the allotment.  Into this he built a container for my Dad's ashes.  We filled the garden with compost and I planted out my Dad's favourite flowers into it - 3 types of chrysanthemums, sweet peas, carnivale de venice morning glorys, chives, a dwarf sunflower and livingstone daisies.  We had at service at the allotment at 12 noon on his birthday, lots of other plot holders came and Len (who's also a plot holder as well as an orthodox monk and did the service at my Dad's funeral) conducted the memorial service and placing of the ashes in the garden.  He spoke about the Celts' relationship with nature.  It was a good service and I'm glad the garden looks nice.  My Dad's with me now at the allotment, and I hope he's going to keep an eye on all the veg when I'm not there.

On Saturday night I went to my friend Caroline's 31st birthday party at my friend Lynne's house.  We had a curry and a fire in the back yard.  For her present I gave Caroline the Cute Book, a blackeyed susan plant, a My Melody purse, a cute nail file and some mint choc chip (pale green) nail polish

I dropped off some chillies, peppers and cucumbers at my friend Leah's - her dad and Chris have moved and cleaned her greenhouse so she wanted stuff to plant in it.

I watched Night at the Museum by accident, but enjoyed it!

So at the end of my week off work, I felt slightly more up to date with everything, but still with a long list of stuff to get through.  I guess it's just that time of year.  You might even catch me romanticising about winter knitting sessions, casseroles, snow and long nights in!