Wednesday, 29 September 2010

It's my birthday!

To celebrate the autumn equinox we had a gathering at my friend Leah's house on Wednesday night.  I brought some produce from the allotment to cook.  We made a big veggie stew and had a good catch up.  We normally have a witchy gathering to celebrate the wiccan festivals/sabbats (this was Mabon).  It slightly put me off when halfway through the meal Leah said she'd been feeding the tomato plants with her menstrual blood!  Yes, you didn't read it wrong. And I know blood, fish and bone is a common plant food, but nevertheless, I felt a bit odd eating the food after she'd said that! Haha.

On Saturday morning I nipped to the allotment and Irish Mick was down with his son.  Mick hadn't visited my Dad's memorial garden as he hasn't been well, but he was fit enough to have a walk up on Saturday.  He's not very steady on his feet but he made it OK.  I gave him a bag of tomatoes.  There aren't many left now and I need to make some chutney with all the green ones that won't get chance to ripen.  I also need to pickle the chillies and take the pumpkins home.

Then I went to Brookside garden centre for some paraffin and garlic and to see what winter bedding plants they had in.  I got some paraffin, but their garlic isn't in stock yet and I wasn't overly impressed with the bedding plants so I didn't buy any.  When I read the label on the paraffin it put me off using it in the shed.  We can use it in the greenhouse instead.

On Saturday afternoon I baked a treacle and ginger traybake from Mary Berry's Baking Bible.  I wanted to make parkin, seeing as it's now officially autumn.  I went everywhere looking for oatmeal for the parkin.  Asda don't sell it anymore and Holland and Barret had sold out.  So I decided to make gingerbread.  I got all the ingredients out of the cupboard then realised there was no ginger!  Fortunately I found a ginger cake recipe that didn't need ginger powder, just preserved ginger in syrup.  So I made the treacle and ginger traybake instead.  It was good, but there was loads of it.  It wasn't as nice as parkin cake.

On Sunday morning we were down at the flea market again.  There wasn't much for me this week but I bought a pretty viola plant in a terracotta pot for the back garden.

We also got some bird feeders, seed and fat balls for the allotment.  Chris put the feeders up at the back of the allotment, hanging from the bushes which are full of sparrows.  Straight away the feeders were full of birds, including blue tits.  It'll be interesting to see how much food they've eaten come next week.

On Sunday afternoon I went up to a shop called Winfields for a camping stove so that we can make tea and coffee in the new shed.  I also bought a waterproof 3 in 1 jacket for the bargain price of £20.  I could have shopped around for a more expensive fancy one, but what difference does it make when I'll only be wearing it down the allotment and out for walks?  As long as it keeps me dry and warm then that's all that matters.   I also got a pair of black wellington boots.  Yes, I'm getting ready for a cold and wet winter.  I took the stove down the shed to try it out, but it set fire to itself!  What a nightmare. 

I also went out for a meal with my Mum on Sunday.  We went to Wellsprings Mexican restaurant on Pendle Hill.  The food was OK, but the view was amazing.  We could see all the way to the sea.

I took the day off on Monday.  I decided to return the faulty camping stove.   Seeing as I was in the area, I finally visited the Halo panoptican in Haslingden.  It was a misty damp day and a cherry picker van was replacing the lights on the panoptican.  It would've been a great view if it wasn't for the low lying cloud.  It's not as good as the singing ringing tree though.

It was my 32nd birthday on Tuesday.  We both took the day off work and went shopping in Manchester.  I think the city was a shock to our systems.  Because of the allotment and gardening we haven't been to a city since before Christmas last year, and it just felt fake, commercial and insincere.  We did buy some things though.  I got some cool smiley cupcakes items from Paperchase and a new Moomin purse.  Chris got some artists inks and drawing pads.

I got lots of cool presents for my birthday. Chris's main present was renovating my Dad's old shed at the allotment, which is like a little log cabin now.  He's made a great job of it.  It was in a very poor state to begin with.

The other shed has suffered a little and needs a good clear out!

My Mum got me some sock slippers, which will help keep my feet from freezing off in winter.  She got me a cardigan too, some sticky toffee pudding chocolates, a tomato and basil scented candle, plus some cash to treat myself with.

My sister got me Nigella's Kitchen book and some violet scented shampoo, some earrings and a gold sparkly thing for the bath.

Last night we watched the final episode of 'This is England '86' (Channel 4, four part drama series) which was difficult but unmissable viewing.  Not since Sunshine (BBC drama series) have I watched a drama like it.  Whilst watching the final episode I was worried that my emotions would cave in and I'd lose my grip on my composure and start crying.  I had to try hard to hold back the tears, I was clenching my fists at one point to try and take my mind of how harsh the scene was.  The storyline about abuse was really tricky viewing.  All in full HD, so you didn't miss an ounce of detail, even if you wanted to.  I won't say too much in case I spoil it for anyone, but if you missed it, or don't live in the UK, try and get hold of a copy because it was one of the best things I've seen this year.  Shane Meadows has made some great films.

We've also been enjoying Stephen Hawking's new TV series.  And I watched 'It's the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown'.  The girls in Charlie Brown shout too much.

The new shop is really coming together.  It's due to open next Thursday 7th October.  People have been working hard fitting shelving and painting the outside.  The shop front is painted in the fairtrade colours (turquoise and green) which looks really eye catching from the street.  I've worked on the gift and gardening orders.  The gardening section is mainly made up of wildlife products to see us through until things pick up again in the garden next spring.  I've ordered lots of bird and insect boxes from a local supplier who take waste wood from local companies and then recycle the wood into wildlife/gardening products.  They employ adults with learning disabilities to make the products.

I've also ordered some bird food and feeders, as well as some wool holders, which hold wool which birds can take to help them build nests.  I remember being sat at the dining table last year and a blue tit landed on a hanging basket in the garden and started pulling out the fluff from the basket liner to use in its nest.  Being a lover of wool and birds I couldn't resist these fluffy little things, plus once the wool has been used the holders can be used for fruit or fat balls, or you can buy wool in boxes to refill the wool holders.

It's funny, because in a way, I thought the shop wouldn't happen.  I thought it was good that a group of people wanted it to happen, but I thought maybe we wouldn't raise enough money to actually make it happen.  I'm so glad I was wrong.  So it's taught me a lesson, that if people work together they can achieve great things.  And it makes me wonder what other things local groups could work towards, it's quite inspiring.  People power!

I ordered a fair trade cookbook called 'Vegetarian main dishes from around the world'.  There's some great, easy veggie recipes in there which I can't wait to try.  It's such a relief to have a meat free cookbook.  I'm fed up of looking at recipes only to be disappointed that they have meat in.

And finally, whilst I was waiting in the car for Chris to come out of the fish and chip shop, I took some photos of the cobbled streets that are familiar to my local area, Lancashire, but may look a little unusual to people in other countries.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Photos from the Radio Lancashire show

Yes, it's me and my pumpkins.  Don't forget I'd been outside in the rain for 2 hours when I had this photo taken!

Live on Radio Lancashire again!

You can see the seasons beginning to change down on the allotment.

The marrow's getting yellower.

I took a photo of the half moon from behind the passion flower plant.

On Saturday I tidied up at the allotment ready for Radio Lancashire's visit on Sunday.  I made two trips to the tip with empty old, rotten compost bags that my Dad had stashed down the side of the shed.

Chris worked Friday, Saturday and Sunday renovating the shed.  It's already looking miles better, he's cladded the inside with wood, so it looks a bit like a log cabin or a chalet.  I can't wait for it to be finished.  It'll be our little home from home on the plot.  We could even sleep there if we fancied spending a night on the allotment.  We're going to put a chair in there, and get a heater and a camping stove.

Radio Lancashire came to the allotments on Sunday.  It rained really heavy all day.  I arrived down there just after 11am and Lynne had already erected the gazebo at the far end of the allotment path.  Inside the gazebo were hot cups of tea and a table full of the Jacob's Join food that people had brought to share.  I had a large slice of Lynne's cake and a cup of tea.  My Mum came for the first part too, but left after about an hour because it was really cold.  Christina said we could pick some of her apples, so I got a bag full of bramleys and eating apples.  I need some bramleys to make tomato chutney.  I wasn't planning on being interviewed again, but the radio DJ Stephen Lowe asked me, so I said yes.  He started off at the top of the site and he made his way through the different plots, mainly looking inside people's sheds and greenhouse in an attempt to escape the wet weather.  When Stephen finally made it to my allotment he talked about my chilli plants, and his soundman tried one of my Ring of Fire chillies, which he thought was pretty hot.  He also said my peach tree has got peach leaf curl, and that it needs spraying with Bordeaux mix in January.  Stephen said our allotment was one of the best he's seen for people in their first year of 'growing it alone', and Lynne agreed that my Dad would have been proud of our efforts.

You can listen to the radio show for a limited time here.

The rain was relentless all day, I was wearing a crappy kagool, and by the time I got home I was soaked right down to my vest.   I've asked Chris if he'll get me a waterproof coat for my birthday, because I definitely need one for winter.

Weekend seemed to fly by and I don't really have that much to report.  We watched a new Doors documentary on Sunday night, which I enjoyed.  It gave a new perspective on Jim Morrison aka Mr Mojo Risin (it's an anagram of Jim Morrison).

I took some photos in the back garden, where the flowers are still growing strong, especially the nasturtium, nicotiana and sunflowers.

Now that the weather is turning colder (and after that cold wet day on Sunday) my thoughts are turning to knitting warm and cosy hats and gloves, starting off with a pair of fingerless mitts for me, then lots of Christmas gifts for friends and family.  I love Ravelry.  I used to struggle to find knitting patterns using Google, but since I've joined Ravelry I've been spoilt for choice.  You can even choose to search for patterns by yarn weight which is very handy if you've got a ball of yarn but don't know what to do with it.

Something funny happened with my Mum's pet cockatiel Toby.  It turns out Toby is actually a girl because she laid an egg!  Even though they've had the bird for years they never knew.  My Dad would have found that very funny.  My Mum's trying to think of a new name for her.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Doctor, doctor...

Is there a medical condition where someone changes their mind too much?  Where someone flits from one focus to another?  If there is, then I've got it bad.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

My foray into weather prediction

The weather wasn't amazing at weekend so I decided to stay home on Saturday (to be honest, I like a good excuse to stay in and cosy up which is why I don't see the approach of Autumn and Winter as a bad thing, apart from the dark mornings and evenings).

I went to my Mum's to go through some bags of my Dad's things.  One of the things I took home was my Dad's weather station.  Unfortunately the external sensor on the station is broken, so it doesn't give me an external temperature and humidity reading. I tried to get it working but I didn't succeed, so I've saved an eBay search to see if any come up for sale on eBay.  The main weather station works fine, and it tells me the times of the sun and moon rise and set, moon phase, as well as internal temperature and humidity, the atmospheric pressure, and an indication of whether the atmospheric pressure has gone up or down over the last 12 hours.  It also predicts the weather (based on atmospheric pressure changes).  I did a bit of research to learn about the difference between high and low atmospheric pressure and how this affects the weather.  Very basically, low pressure can indicate wet weather and high pressure fair weather.  Apparently, if the pressure drops rapidly the weather display will flash to predict a storm, which no doubt I will get very excited about if it ever happens.  I like a bit of drama as far as my weather forecast is concerned.  Which is why my favourite weather forecaster is the BBC's Rob McElwee because he always gets excited if the weather is going to be dramatic.

I also enjoy listening to Radio 4's late night shipping forecast and imagining the stormy weather out at sea in the distant and wild places such as Cromarty, Forties and Carlingford Lough.  I like to imagine the different kinds of places where people listen to the forecast.  Sadly the shipping forecast is not as good as it used to be, they've changed presenters and it's lost its romance.  The presenters take it in turns now, there's a woman and two men that I know of, one of the men has quite a deep voice which sounds similar to the old presenter, but it's not the same.  I don't even bother listening to the woman and the other man. I also like listening to the 'Sailing By' music before the shipping forecast at 0.48 on Radio 4, and I imagine all the seamen getting ready to board their trawlers and head out into the rough oceans to catch fish.  According to Wikipedia they play Sailing By 'because it serves as a vital identification tool - it is distinctive and as such assists anyone attempting to tune in'.   I also like the fact that the British national anthem 'God Save the Queen' is played at the end of the shipping forecast every night.  Silly, I know, but it gets me in the mood for going to sleep.

We watched part of the film 'Four Lions' by Chris Morris.  I say part, because we both fell asleep half way in, but it wasn't because the film was boring, it was pretty funny, so we'll watch the second half as soon as we get chance.

On Sunday morning I picked Chris up from the allotment and I took a shot of the allotment path whilst I was waiting for him.

Then we made our usual trip down to the flea market.  I got a couple of books, including a Garden Gang Ladybird book.  I used to read these books when I was little but you don't see them around anymore.  The book was called 'Bertie Brussels Sprout and Lucy Leek'.

The whole series was written and illustrated by a 9 year old girl called Jayne Fisher back in the late 70s/early 80s, and has some ace felt tip illustrations at the front and back of all the fruit and veg characters in the series e.g. Polly Pomegranate and Roger Radish.

I also bought a large rosemary plant, I couldn't resist its lovely smell, and it made me think of the tasty winter casseroles with dumplings that I'll make once the weather turns cold.  Once I was home I potted up the rosemary into a larger terracotta pot.  I've got most herbs now, including sage, chives, parsley, oregano, thyme and rosemary.  I also potted up the lavender that my mum bought me and the discounted pink hydrangea I bought a few weeks ago.  Then I picked my mum a big bunch of sweet peas.

My friend Nina popped round for a brew before I took her down the allotment.  I had saved her some sweetcorn, but unfortunately when we went to pick the cobs they were past their best and full of bugs, so we didn't bother.  Next year I need to be more on the ball and ensure I pick the sweetcorn at its optimum ripeness.  Nina had been burgled the night before, and they took her laptop containing all of her photos over the past few years, she was gutted.  So I decided to back up all my photos onto an external hard drive just in case, it took a while to transfer them over but at least they're backed up now.

Down at the allotment I watered and tended to everything.  Three pumpkin plants (1 indoor, 2 outdoor - all Rocket F1) had died off just leaving the orange fruits, so I cut the fruits away from the plant and left them out on the patio area to cure in the sun.

I put some posters up on the allotment gates to tell people that Radio Lancashire are coming again next weekend.  DJ Stephen Lowe is doing another live show from the plot further to his visit back in March.  We're also having a Jacob's Join and I need to think of some nice food to take.  I might bake a brownie, but I don't think I can compete with Lynne's perfect Victoria sponge cake.  I haven't decided whether I want to be interviewed on the radio again, although I was chuffed that I was brave enough to do it last time.

Chris dug up the 2 remaining rows of (maincrop) potatoes.

He also carried on with his work on the shed.  He's fitted two new windows and is fitting a new floor.  My Dad built the shed many years ago and it was in a relatively poor state of repair, so Chris is renovating it back to its former glory.  We're hoping to use the shed as a little living room with a comfy chair and paraffin heater (I love the smell of paraffin heaters).  It'll be somewhere to shelter in Winter and sit down with a hot cup of soup.  We'll get a camping stove in there too to make tea and coffee.  I suffer with bad circulation in my feet and fingers when the weather is cold or if I have my hands in cold water.  It doesn't take long for the tops of my fingers to turn white in cold weather, and sometimes it hurts that much I want to cry and it makes me feel sick - seriously!  So I need a little place to go and warm up.

At the shop meeting on Monday, I took some plastic rubbish in to make the internal sign.  Chris came with me to advise the group on the shop fittings.  I've been researching gardening products for the shop, and I think I've got a good selection of products in development.  Seeing as the gardening season is coming to a lull until next Spring, I thought we could concentrate on Christmas gardening gifts, wildlife feeders and houses, bird seed and wildflower seed.  I'll also include some garlic bulbs and sprouting seed kits.  Plus anything else I can think of in the meantime.

When I got back from the meeting I settled down to watch last week's 'Great British Bake Off' (BBC2).  Sue Perkins is one of the hosts and she always make me laugh, I loved her in the 'Supersizers' food series that she did with Giles Coren when each episode they ate food from a specific era.

The wartime espisode was my favourite.

But it was a close call with the 80s one which was loads of fun with crazy 80s outifts and hair dos.

During the 80s episode Sue described a pop tart as an envelope filled with molten strawberries which really tickled me.  As well as eating the food from different eras they also lived the lifestyle, right down to their homes and clothing.  

Sorry, I'm sidetracking, back to the point.  Mary Berry is also in the 'Great British Bake Off', and as readers of this blog will know, Mary is my baking heroine, whose cake recipes have never failed to please.  She's a bit of a toff in real life, but I'll let her off.

I also caught up on the last two episodes of Gardeners World, and Toby planted some paperwhite narcissus for Christmas.  He must have read my mind (see last week's post).

I got some cool new music this weekend: an album by Allo Darlin, Groove Armada's new album, Siouxsie and the Banshee's Kaleidoscope, Alan Watt's Om, and the Best of the Specials.

I got offered a place on the Ecology course but I turned it down.  Mainly because the tutor said the course is about habitat management (not really what I want to do) and he said the job opportunities aren't good at the moment.

You can tell the nights are drawing in.  After work, we don't get much time at the allotment before it starts to go dark.

Here's the onion, garlic and shallot harvest, which has more or less dried out now.  Note the marrow too (the big ones is still growing on the plot).

My 32nd birthday is approaching (28th September), so I need to sort out what I am doing and where we are going for a day out and where to have a birthday meal to meet up with friends.  I think I'll keep it simple this year, cos most people seem to be skint.

And finally, we watched an episode of Shooting Stars and the Misterchef sketch was the funniest thing I've seen in a long, long time.  One of the characters has a cauliflower head!  It's too funny.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The sun comes back for my week off work

I was off work all last week and the weather was gloriously sunny.  I made the most of the warm weather and enjoyed time in the garden sunbathing and reading.

I ordered 3 books off Amazon.  I got the Virgin Gardener for only £3.  I borrowed this book from the library a few months back and reluctantly returned it.  It's a lovely book full of easy gardening related projects and ideas.

I also got Graham Bell's Permaculture Garden, as I've been reading the Permaculture Way, which is very inspiring.  Permaculture makes so much sense.  I really feel we need to live more sustainably and permaculture is such a practical way of achieving this.  I also got Thoreau's 'Walden, Or Life In The Woods' which is referenced by a lot of the books I read, and seems to be one of the first books written about voluntary simplicity.

I gave the back garden a tidy up and deheaded all the flowers.  The nicotiana marshmallow plants and the three sunflowers are taller than me.  The sweet peas are still flourishing and pumping out loads of pastel coloured, fresh scented blooms.

I cooked my favourite roasted tomato, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar dish served with mozzarella for lunch.  I used the lovely Sungold cherry tomatoes which have been my favourite tomato variety by far this season.

On Tuesday morning I decided to get a couple of jobs out of the way.  I defrosted the freezer and cleaned out the fridge.  Then I gave my car a thorough clean and hoover, and got some new car mats and an air freshener.   My car had taken a beating transporting plants back and forth to the allotment, but it looks a lot better following the mega clean.

We watched a cool film called Whip It.  It was directed and written by Drew Barrymore and was about a girl taking up roller derby.  It was lots of fun, and has made me want to take up roller skating.  I've got many happy memories of going to the roller disco with my friends at weekend when I was about 10.  I'd love to go to a roller disco again and see if I can still do it.

Down at the allotment I tidied and weeded and planted 12 Hispi F1 cabbage plants in the spare patch of land where the first and second early potatoes used to be.  I'm continuing to harvest loads of tomatoes and runner and French beans.  I haven't picked any borlotti beans yet - I'm still waiting for the pods to swell.  The chillies and peppers are coming along nicely.

I brought home one of the marrows.

On Thursday I was invited for an interview at Myerscough college re the ecology foundation degree.  I drove there via the B roads through the Ribble Valley.  It took about 50 minutes, but was a lovely drive through the countryside.  I met with the course tutor for half an hour and we chatted about the course, and my reasons for wanting to study ecology.  We also looked around the facilities.  The verdict?  It sounds like a lot of work, one day a week at college and one day homework, plus one day a fortnight voluntary work – in addition to my current job.  The tutor also said there are limited job prospects for ecologists.  It also sounded like there would be lots of lab work too.  I'm not sure if it's for me after all, but I'm waiting to hear whether they’re willing to offer me a place.  I'm thinking distance learning may be another way for me to get some more qualifications.  That way I can pick and choose which subjects to study and control the amount of study time, without having to drop any days at work.  What a dilemma!  Gemma’s dilemma.  I blame it on being a Libran – I really do struggle to make decisions because I can always see the pros and cons of both options.

I planted some rudbeckia in the flower border in our front garden a few months ago.  So far, the border has mainly been dominated with the lime green nicotiana, and the rudbeckia haven't done much, however this week they have just started to flower.  The blooms follow a beautiful autumnal palette of rusty oranges and golds.  I think they'll look really look good once they're all in bloom, especially because our house faces onto a row of very tall trees at the top of the park.  These trees are currently full of green leaves, but it won't be long before they begin to turn orange too.  In fact, on my way back from the allotment I noticed the first tree of the season beginning to turn orange.  Autumn is on its way.  I can't believe it's September already.

In a panic that this might be the end of summer we decided to go for a trip to the seaside on Saturday.  First we drove to Knott End and realised there's not very much there, so we drove down to Cleveleys and had some food on the beach, an ice cream and a look around the shops.  Then we drove on to Blackpool via the prom, past the tower and the Pleasure Beach and pulled up at the sand dunes opposite the old Pontins holiday camp.  I love the sand dunes!  We walked down to the sea and had a paddle, and collected some shells and pebbles to take home.  Then we drove to St Anne's and had fish and chips and a walk on the pier.  Then I drove home (quite a long winded way), back through the Ribble Valley, and we tried to stop off at Jeffrey Hill viewpoint but I couldn't find it.  We arrived home with lots of sand in my shoes (and in my newly hoovered car!).

On Sunday we went to the flea market and I got 4 books - Flower Craft, Traditional Crafts, Creative Garden Design by AJ Hellyer and Ribble Walks.

Then I drove up to Brookside garden centre to buy some paperwhite narcissus bulbs.  I read in the Virgin Gardener that if you plant the bulbs now (indoors) they will flower in time for Christmas.  I also got 500g of Japanese onions sets for overwintering.

On Monday night we visited the new premises for the shop.  We've found a vacant shop in the town centre.  It's quite a large room, painted white with 2 large windows, perfect for displaying our stock.  So it's all go now, and I need to get the gardening product section sorted.  I've already emailed some suppliers regarding seed stock, but it's kind of the wrong time of year for sowing seeds and getting active in the garden, so I'm going to concentrate on gardening gifts until Spring.  I think eco friendly gardening gifts will be popular around Christmas time, e.g. butterfly nest boxes and bee logs.  It'll be all hands to the pump getting the shop fitted out and painting and cleaning etc.  There's also a patch of land outside the back of the new shop, which is overgrown and neglected at the moment, but it has the potential to be regenerated into a wildlife haven with wildflowers, or perhaps even grow some fruit, vegetables or herbs (and excess could be sold in the shop).