Monday, 27 June 2011

Finally, it's officially summer!

It was the summer solstice on Wednesday but it was a wet and miserable day.  I hope it's not a sign of things to come.

The weather was pretty much the same on Saturday, and we couldn't decide what to do, so we nipped into town because we wanted to get out of the house.  I bought some seeds from Wilkinsons, they had 75% off, and I saved £18!  I got the tomato 6 pack again (usually £4, but only £1 after the 75% discount), American land cress (meant to be like watercress, which I love), rudbeckia Irish spring, old fashioned sweet pea, dill, night scented stock, a fancy variety of geranium, and 2 packs of spring onion elody (which you can plant as late as September).  We came home and watched Robot Chicken Star Wars and fell asleep on the settee.  Then we ordered a curry and watched Family Guy Star Wars (which I thought was better than the Robot Chicken version).

Instead of taking photos this weekend I read Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Book 1.  I read it cover to cover and I loved it.  It's full of loads of brill photography tips.  I would highly recommend it and I can't wait to read 2 and 3 (I ordered the box set).  I also ordered Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure, which looks good, but I haven't started it yet.  I must stop reading about photography and start actually taking some photos!

It was boiling hot and sunny on Sunday.  We nipped to the flea market in the morning and I got a crystal owl and frog for only 40p, and Chris bought a mini birdhouse (too small for a real bird) with wind chimes underneath.  They've all gone in the shed.

We weeded the squash and pea beds - the weeds were getting out of control.  The outdoor squash aren't doing too well, especially compared to the ones in the greenhouse which are huge now.  I hope they pick up soon, otherwise there'll be no courgettes and marrows this year, which would be a real shame.

The peas are coming on well and a few baby pods have appeared.  I picked the first 4 spring onions - they were very crunchy and tasty.  We've harvested lots of strawberries and red and black currants too.

There was a huge frog in the pond, it made us both jump.  I spotted a tiny baby frog in the squash patch when I was weeding, so Chris carried it over to the pond.  The tadpoles are massive now and look like mini frogs with huge tails (a bit lizard-like).

I planted some kale and cauliflowers in the empty spaces near the squash and peas.  I also planted out 28 leeks - 7 rows of 4.  I made a 6 inch hole using a dibber, then trimmed the roots of the leek to 1 inch, and trimmed the tops off too.  I dropped the leeks into the 6 inch holes and then filled each hole carefully with water, about 1 inch of leek was peeping out of the holes once I'd finished.  I've used this technique for the last 2 years and had really good results.  I normally grow the variety called 'Bandit', but when I got to the seed packet this year I'd run out, so I think this time I've grown Musselburgh.  I hope they do as well as Bandit did.

All the beds are full now, and it's just a case of weeding, feeding, watering and harvesting.  It's been easier this year than it was last year, we had a lot of structural work and digging to do last year, which really added to the workload.  I'm looking forward to everything being ready to eat, especially the tomatoes.  Speaking of which, I'm worried that the weight of the tomato plants (once they're full of fruit) might be too heavy for the greenhouse (the tomato strings are tied to a wire along the roof of the greenhouse).  I don't want to risk damaging the greenhouses.  I might replace the strings with canes instead.  There aren't that many tomatoes on the plants yet, so I've got a week or so to decide what to do.

Here are some pics from the allotment.

I ordered Miranda series 1 off Lovefilm and watched it all in one sitting - she's very, very funny.  I can't wait to see series 2.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Goodbye to a feathery friend

My Mum's pet cockatiel Toby dropped dead this weekend without any warning whatsoever.  The poor little thing, he'd been off his food a bit recently, but we never thought he was going to die, he was about 8 years old, so we thought he had a few more years in him.  My Mum found him dead on the floor and she was quite upset, it was a shock for her, and it brought back memories of when my Dad died.  It was my Dad's bird initially, so he'd have been really upset if he was here.  We buried Toby at the allotment next to my Dad's garden and I bought a lemon coloured poppy to plant above his grave, the poppy should flower at this time each year, and Toby was a yellow coloured bird so I thought it was fitting.  We buried him with his little tweetie pie toy.  RIP Toby Mac.

Cats have been causing a mess in my garden pooing and digging up flowers.  One of them has dug up the cherry pie plant that I'd planted near my front door, I wasn't impressed!  So I bought a purple veronica plant and planted it in its place.  Cats love bare soil, and we need some sun to help the plants grow faster and cover the exposed soil. 

I walked to the shops on Saturday, I'm not getting enough exercise, I mean, I do my bit at the allotment but I still feel like I need to do more.  I park on the car park outside work during the week and because of this I'm not walking enough.  

I picked up the long black flowery skirt from the vintage clothing shop in town.  It's really cool but I think I need to wait until autumn/winter before I can start wearing it, it's not that summery, but will look brill with my black leather boots.

On Saturday afternoon I swept and tidied the back garden and moved around some of the pots and made it look a lot better.  I also fed the front and back gardens with seaweed to try and bring everything on a bit. 

On Saturday night we went for an Indian for our friend's 39th birthday.  We bought him a small bottle of Jura whiskey.  It was a nice meal (not a great choice for vegetarians), but the meat eaters enjoyed it.  Everyone we went out with smoked, so they kept going out for a ciggie and leaving me sat on my own, I'm not used to being with so many smokers, I felt like the odd one out.

The troublesome director has resigned from the shop.  His letter of resignation was a big guilt trip and blamed people for picking on him.  I've not much sympathy really because he brought it all on himself.  We've a business to run and his tantrums over nothing in particular were a distraction from the task in hand.

It was father's day on Sunday and I spent some time at the allotment.  I tidied around my Dad's garden and left a calendula on top of the plinth.  I watered everything and weeded the bean bed.  The weeds are really picking up at the minute, I think it's all the wet weather.  We need to try and keep on top of them before they get out of control.

We ate the first cucumbers of the season.  The mini 'Cucinos' (Thompson and Morgan) were ready and I picked 3 off the plant in the greenhouse at home.  They were very tasty.  I had a spare plant which I gave to my friend Emma.  They're a great size, and one cucumber is just enough for 1 or 2 people, and it doesn't leave you with half a soggy cucumber going off in the fridge.  I would recommend them.  The gooseberries are ready and my Mum made a tasty gooseberry crumble.  I also picked the first beetroot which my Mum is going to pickle.

I made some more cinnamon swirl muffins on Sunday evening.  They're so quick to knock up and very yummy.  Mmmmm.

I've signed up to Lovefilm because they offered me a free 1 month trial and a £15 Amazon voucher.  The first film that arrived was 'Taken' starring Liam Neeson and we watched it on Sunday night.  It was alright, plenty of action, but a bit far fetched and if you looked at the plot in too much detail it wasn't that feasible.  Not an intellectual's film choice really.  I prefer something with a bit more substance.

Chris made a small chest of drawers over the weekend - they're really cool.

I ordered 'Of mice and men' off Amazon, and I've started reading it.  It's going well so far, but the book is a lot shorter that I expected, so I should have finished it soon.  I asked my friend to recommend some fiction for me to read and I've a long list of recommendations to work my way through.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

My recommended UK off camera flash kit / strobist equipment

I finally bit the bullet and bought an off camera flash stand, umbrella and flash/umbrella holder to go with my Nikon SB-800 flash.  It took me a while to decide which equipment to order.  There are so many different choices, and not much advice on what to buy, not in the UK anyway.  There's plenty of advice about US kit (especially on the excellent blog Strobist), but not all of the US kit is available to buy here in the UK.  I opted for the Manfrotto 5001b nano stand.  Verdict - good, very pleased with it, feels high quality and like it will last. A bit pricey but it's worth it and I'm glad I paid a bit more and opted for this.  Flashes are expensive and the last thing you want is a cheap stand that falls over.  I also got a Westcot 43" white brolly with removable black cover.  Verdict - good, a bit large, but folds down nicely to a portable size.  Apparently larger brollies diffuse the light better, so the larger size should help with this.  And finally I got the Interfit Strobies tilthead flash head with umbrella holder.  Verdict: cheap and nasty and it didn't fit on the Manfrotto stand properly.  It felt insecure and scratched my brass spigot. So I sent it back for a Lastolite flash tilthead with umbrella holder which is much better, it's made of metal (not cheap plastic) and screws securely onto the Manfrotto stand.  I also got a set of Rosco Strobist gels for the bargain price of £10 off eBay, much better than paying £25 for the official Nikon ones, when you don't get nowhere near as many.  So I'm a happy strobist now.  Just need to take some good pics!  I'll post them here when I do.  I did a few test shots and the light looked great.

I ordered Joe McNally's photography book 'The Moment It Clicks'.  It's brilliant.  The book's got mixed reviews on Amazon, but I read it in 2 days - not cause it's short, just cause it's hard to put down.  It's very readable.  Mostly in the format of a photo, with an explanation of the how the shot came about, and the technique used.  If you want to learn about f stops and shutter speeds, this isn't for you, you need a book aimed at beginners.  This book is for people who already know all that kind of stuff, who want to learn real tips from a guy who's been there and done it for many years.  It's a really interesting read.  Forget the comments about poor quality print - the photos looked fine to me for the purpose of this book.  I've also bought Joe McNally's 'Hot Shoe Diaries' too, which I'm really enjoying as well.  At first I didn't really like Joe's style.  But now he's one of my photographic heroes.  Just goes to show, first impressions can be way off mark.

I went to the shop's board meeting on Friday morning.  A couple of directors are thinking of resigning - they tend to be the people that don't agree with the rest of the group, I think it might be for the best really as they seem to cause lots of tension between people, whereas everyone else gets along.  You see, they want things their way, but it doesn't work that way when it's a co-operative, everyone gets a say, and they don't seem to like that.

Our telephone at home had broken and I waited in all Saturday morning for the engineer to come and fix it, he came right at the last minute too, just as I was about to give up on him. 

We nipped to Annie's cafe on Saturday afternoon, we both ordered the same food as usual, it's getting to be a bit of a habit now.  We popped into a local vintage clothing shop afterwards and I saw a long flowery skirt I really liked, but it didn't have a price tag on and the shop manager had gone home, so I have to go back next week to buy it.  But I really wanted it there and then!  I'll have to be patient.

After Annie's, and with a full belly, I weeded both greenhouses at the allotment.  I'm trying to keep on top of it rather than letting it get out of control.  I've been nipping out the side shoots from the tomatoes and winding them around the string supports.  In hindsight I should have make the string supports a bit slacker as they already seem quite tight around the stems.

The first pot marigold has flowered in the greenhouse at the allotment and there's a few baby green toms appeared on the tomato plants.

I gave everything a seaweed feed, but I haven't started feeding with tomato feed just yet.  I also planted out the second sowing of sweetcorn.

Chris spotted some aphids on one chilli plant, so he snapped off the affected bit.  I hope they don't spread!

I swept out the shed as it was a bit untidy and the cobwebs were coming back. 

The salad bed looks nice and tidy.

The rose that my Mum bought for my Dad's garden has flowered.

I also tidied around the rest of the plot.  Chris bought a strimmer last weekend and he's trimmed back all the grass and weeds on the paths.  It looks so much tidier now.  It's made a massive difference and was a sound investment.  I think he enjoys strimming, he finds it fun.

The weather's been wet yet again (sick of saying that now), and there's not been much sun.  We could do with a bit of sun to bring things on a bit. 

I had a lie in Sunday morning.  Then I got up and pottered about and read some books and watched the Victorian Kitchen Garden DVD.  In the afternoon I baked Delia's old fashioned cherry cake.  It turned out well.  I think my oven runs a bit hot though as a was a bit overcooked on the edges.  Then I went to my Mum's for green Thai curry.  Yum.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Frazzled myself in the sunshine

I had too much to drink on Thursday night and paid the price on Friday - I felt awful and I was sick.  It was really sunny so I sunbathed in the back garden without sunscreen for about 2 hours and burnt my chest and thighs to a frazzle, they were soooooo, soooooooo sore for days!  I'll not be drinking for a while put it like that, tee total time for me. And I'll be wearing sunscreen in future.

I concentrated on doing the back garden this weekend and planted out all the perennials, as well as the annuals including the sweet peas, cosmos and rudbeckia.  Let's hope Steve doesn't dig them all up!  I tidied up in the back garden too and took the cold frame down until next year.  The flowers that were left over have been shipped off to Chris's boss's wife and daughter, and I gave my mum some sweet peas and morning glory.

It was pay day so I treated myself to an Origins order, I needed some more Origins balanced diet moisturiser.  I've got greasy skin with dry bits and this is the only moisturiser which doesn't give me spots as I'm really prone to break outs.  I also got a face mask and some anti ageing moisturiser and they sent me a load of freebie testers too.

My Mum works in a charity shop and she spotted loads of little owls for our owl display in the shed.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Making sock cats at a crafty birthday party

I visited Hanson’s garden centre on Saturday morning with my Mum. We used to go their with my Dad when I was little so I was excited about going again to see what they have. Unfortunately I didn't buy much as it seemed a bit pricey, but my Mum got some bedding plants and a yellow rose for my Dad's memorial garden. When I got home I decided to go to Brookside garden centre and ended up spending £40 on plants, including lots of perennials for the back garden, and some flowers for my Dad's memorial garden.

It was wet again on Saturday afternoon so I stayed in a did my 1970s confectionery jigsaw (1000 pieces), I had it finished in about 3 hours.

I bought a new jigsaw called 'the Artist's cat', which looks like it should be fun, I just need another wet weekend so I can get stuck into it.

It was my friend Caroline's 32nd birthday party on Sunday, and she invited us around to her house for a crafting party and food. I really struggled to choose a present, but eventually chose her some Spanish hot chocolate (very tasty, thick hot choc which you make in small cup), a selection of brighly coloured eyeshadows, some beads to make a bracelet, a tokidoki small Japanese style bag, and some iron on Hello Kitty patches. I arrived at her house just after 2pm on Sunday afternoon and helped her to make a gluten free chocolate cake before the rest of the guests arrived. I also made some lemonade but we forgot to drink it! Everyone sat in her living room and we got busy crafting little sock animals. I made a stripy cat (inspired by my cat Steve) using a sock. Other people made dogs, rabbits, yetis and creatures that we couldn't identify. Two of our friends brought their little babies along as well which was sweet. Caroline laid on a lovely spread, she made a vegan Mexican chilli and served it with wraps, tacos, salad, cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole and lots of other yummy stuff. The cake tasted great too.

It would have been my Dad's 72nd birthday on Monday, so I redid the memorial garden at the allotment on my Dad's birthday. I planted a large perennial dog daisy, sweet peas, morning glory carnivale de venice, French marigold, pot marigold, trailing violas, livingstone daisies, orange pansies and fuchsia. It looks much better. I hope the slugs don't attack all the flowers, I've put down plenty of slug pellets. My mum bought a rose tree for the garden so I potted this into a large tub. I also left a bunch of flowers from my aunty Amy and aunty Anne. God bless you Dad.

My sister texted Monday night to say she was coming up the following day with my two nieces for two days. They arrived Tuesday afternoon and Matilda and Venetia helped me fill up large pots of compost and pot on some peppers, aubergines and chillies in the greenhouse at home (I'd been to get another bag of organic compost). In the evening we went out for a meal with them to a local Italian restaurant, Monte Christo, which was lovely. I ordered some amazing cheese, sundried tomato and garlic mushrooms. The following night we had a little feast of crisps, biscuits and goodies and watched the English version of the film Pollyanna.

I was off work on Tuesday so I planted flowers into the front garden. I was going to plant everything in the back garden but some gas men are doing work outside back gate, and they were 'effing and jeffing' so decided to work out the front instead.

The weather's still been very wet, but thankfully not as windy. The hanging baskets have gone up - they'd finished hardening off. I did one for my Mum which she's pleased with. We've been weeding at the allotment. Chris planted the squashes outside. I also planted the cucumbers, aubergines and squashes in the bottom greenhouse. The first flowers on the tomatoes have appeared, there's no yellow leaves yet, thankfully, but I need to buy some epsom salts just in case I spot any signs of magnesium deficiency. When we planted the tomatoes we put a small sprinkling of epsom salts into the planting hole, so this might have helped.

We picked some tasty looking radish.