Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bit of a theme here?

Books; always lots of books at Xmas. I love it; I'd struggle to live without books and often have three or four on the go simultaneously. This year's haul included:

by the wonderfully-named Twigs Way. She has a refreshingly different take on allotments, majoring more on their place in social history than "plant yer carrots here, sunshine". She is also strong on allotments in Eastern Europe, as are the Eastern Europeans of course. Our Polish friends, before they moved to their current house, had a huge allotment with a two-storey summerhouse on it. Imagine getting away with that here. But it's a good read and I commend it to you.

But that's only one of this year's Xmas themes, and there isn't much going on at the allotment so I'll ramble off down a scenic byway for a moment. Also included in Santa's goody bag was:

I realise this may seem a tad odd, bordering more on pain than pleasure, (and nothing to do with allotments so you'll just have to indulge me in this) but I've always been keen on cycling UP hills, ideally long, hard & difficult hills. And there are some crackers in this book:
  • Fleet Moss - the highest road in Yorkshire
  • Kirkstone, Wrynose & Hardknott passes in the Lake District,
  • Crawleyside - out of Weardale
  • Winnatts Pass & Curbar Edge - in the Peak District
  • The Stang - out of Teesdale

Done them all, he said modestly. And a few more. But I was younger then; much younger. I think I may have had more legs to call on; I certainly had bigger legs, with bulges in places where nowadays I don't even have places.

And I've never done the Big Daddy of the British Isles - Bealach-na-Ba or Pass of the Cattle, in Wester Ross. I do recall standing at the bottom of it in 1968, aged 18, thinking Oh Lordy, No, that's just way too long & steep. But of the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, I find I've already done 17 of them, albeit none of them recently.

So that's the intention for 2011, to get out and up some big hills, from the list and some others. It's a challenge from my younger self to my older self, to get out & do the job properly. What's that you say? Middle-aged fool, trying to relive his lost youth? Fie, be gone ye doubters; I can do enough of that myself.

Before this whole thing gets under way of course I first need to re-instruct the cycling legs in their true function, for they have been lamentably under-used of late. I may even be tempted to do a separate cycling blog to relay progress. In the meantime, here's a pic of times past.
This is my bike on top of the Snake Pass, sometime in the early 1980s. You'll have to take my word for it that's it's my bike, because I'm taking the picture aren't I? Doh! So why didn't I just get some passer by to take the photo with me in it? Because there weren't any passers-by, is the reason; the road was officially closed to all traffic because of the snow. Except bicycles, self-evidently. It seemed like a good idea at the time; actually, it still seems like a good idea even now!!

I hope you've had a great Xmas and are likewise looking forward to 2011.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dull and drab and dreary.... what the allotment is like at present. Everything has been pressed flat by the weight of snow and frozen by -14C. But no doubt it'll recover in due course and in the meantime it's still producing leeks and cabbage.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Cautionary Tale

I like Chillie Oil. I grow Chillies. I've previously put home-grown Chillies in oil to make, errm, Chillie Oil. Should be simple, and it has been in the past.

Not this time.

The first two bits went well, growing the Chillies & putting them in some nice extra-virgin olive oil. But then, lateish on Saturday night, already tired & facing a long & snowy day on the road on Sunday, we noticed that the bottle was sitting in a small pool of oil.

Wilma Wilbury, brave Wilma Wilbury, investigated and, long story short, the bottle exploded in her face.

We had green, oily, chillie mess everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. All over the kitchen, over the window, the cooker, the floor, the walls, the dining table. And of course, Wilma.

Wilma is unhurt, although she did slip out of my hands a bit (the oil, you know).

It had clearly been fermenting in the bottle but fortunately the glass didn't break, just vented the oil at high pressure, but Ye Gods, what a mess. Come to think of it, I haven't looked at the ceiling; there might be some there too. And it was horrible. It was like the sort of stuff seabirds regurgitate to feed their young.

Shan't be doing that again (I've been told).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Official: Wales colder than Hudson Bay

We've been in West Wales a lot recently on family business, and it sure felt cold. Quite how cold only became clear this morning with reports of -18C in Powys and a mere -9C on the shores of Hudson Bay.

Whatever next? Polar bears in Porthmadog? Narwhals in Narberth?

And what will this do for my garlic, which is stubbornly refusing to show at all?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

It works every time

I have a little Blackthorn bush
Nothing does it bear
Just a load of leaves
and thorns that get everywhere.

Which is a bit unhelpful, given that it was planted expressly to produce sloes for sloe gin. Five years it's been in and, to date, zero sloes. I've been muttering, in it's earshot, about digging it out.

And what do I find today?

Lo, a sloe; well, two actually in this shot and a further 6 elsewhere.

Now 8 sloes ain't gonna make much sloe gin, perhaps one shot, but you have to admit it's a start. They've gone to join the blackberry and apple vodka which is maturing for Xmas.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Now you see 'em

Now you don't

The autumn clear-up continues. I like this time of year, when you can start to see the bones of it all again. And it's an opportunity for bonfires of course!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The great Autumn clear up....

..... has started, although not before saving these fine chaps for a while longer

Q - what do you call an overgrown Courgette?

A - a Courge, of course

The hedge is cut; yeah, I know, like you're interested in a picture of a hedge. But it was hard work so you're gonna have one.

The nasturtiums are still flowering and the sun is still shining, occasionally. But mangetout, courgettes & sweet peas have hit the heap already and many more aren't far behind. Next big step? Manure!!!!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Nutkins scoffs the lot

He's a cheeky little fellow;

this was barely 6 feet away from the conservatory window.

But clearly the lure of some nice fresh sunflower seeds outweighed the risk of being shouted at by Humans.
It would have been a different story if I'd caught him eating strawberries again

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Doomed, we're all Doomed

Well, at least the tomatoes are. The dreaded blight has got into the greenhouse and, within the space of a week, has killed or mouldered everything I hadn't already harvested (well, obviously!)

Any advice on avoiding this next year? Fewer plants (they were packed in a bit tight)? Better ventilation (I thought it was pretty good; the greenhouse was never completely closed up, even at night)? Sterilise it over the winter (Jeyes Fluid, or is that way too lethal)?

Interestingly, the two Jalapeno pepper plants are completely unaffected despite being packed in tight with the tomatoes. I guess this is another of the upsides of the powerful taste! There is a good crop but they're all still green at the moment. They've gone back into the now-cleared greenhouse to see whether they'll ripen any further.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sheep in my Garden; what me gonna do?

While Woody, Wilma & Bunty Wilbury were in Poland, Woolly Wilbury and his mates came calling.

Apparently there were 40 of them in our garden at one point.

And Woolly clearly hasn't given up on his escaping tricks; here he is out for a stroll this morning.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dzien dobry, bloggers

The Wilburys have been in Poland, and hence incommunicado, for nearly two weeks. To explain, we have family friends in south-east Poland, quite close to the Ukraine, and hadn't seen them for some time.
We had a few days in Krakow

at the beginning and a few days in Zakopane at the end but the middle period saw Woody, Wilma & Bunty Wilbury in deep Poland. This was Wilma's third visit & my second. Poland has changed enormously since Wilma's first visit, not long after the fall of communism. The food is better (in fact the food is great; don't believe any of the stories about stodgy, dumpling-based East European food) & most people are much more prosperous (it's great value too) but the traffic is much much worse.

But it was great to see our friends and we are very envious of their garden.

The last time we saw it, nine years ago, none of this existed.

The garage & house were there (the garage is a log cabin - look at the way the logs interconnect on the end walls)

but the garden was undeveloped. The well was being used as a place to keep beer cool.

I'd love a garden like this.

And a log cabin as a garage. But learning Polish is a bit of a deterrent! I think I'll stick to the allotment (which I haven't seen for a fortnight; heaven knows what that will look like now)

Do Widzenia ;>)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

An Assistant

Every gardener sometimes needs an Assistant.

Ideally, more energetic than this one. But it was nice to have company.

And look at this - my first Fildenkraut - aka German Shredding Cabbage.

Hope it tastes as good as it looks and hasn't got extra protein (aka slugs) secreted deep inside.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A chair, a shed & some sunshine.....

....What more could a chap want?
Today has been another harvest & maintenance day. The blackberry bonanza has finally ended and the plenitude of raspberries has just begun. I do like a nice plenitude, especially of raspers.

The superfluity of courgettes continues (yeah, I know, 10 plants, what was I thinking of? Doh!)and has been joined by a glut of gherkins and cucumbers. I find it hard to tell which is which because the labels are all overgrown now and outdoor cucumbers are a bit knobbly and look like gherkins anyway, so tend to call them all gherkumbers; they all taste the same anyway!

But the rainbow chard is doing really well - look at these chaps.

No idea what it tastes like & I've never grown it before but it looks so good I'll definitely do it again.

And finally, I turned around incautiously at one point while holding the [working] strimmer (this is the maintenance bit) and inadvertently strimmed the top off one of the dahlias. The pale one in the middle is no more. Oops; I'm just glad it wasn't one of the several Bishops of Llandaff - I'd hate to be accused of Ecclesiasticide.

PS - and in a packed programme tonight, I've just lopped a chunk out of my little finger (well, one of them actually; I do have two, although at this rate perhaps not for much longer) while cutting back tomato plants. I knew those scissors were sharp but they're really sharp. Not so much "blood on the tracks" as blood on the tommyatoes. The sacrifices I make, eh?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Strawberry Fields Forever

Oh, I do hope so. We bought 12 plants of Marshmello at the start of the year and had loads of strawbs from them (well, apart from those that Tufty ate!). And now they're runnering furiously so I've planted them out and dug the runners in a bit (there are at least 50).

Here's looking forward to lots of luvverly strawbs next year.

And the rose hips are coming on well too.

I'm not growing them, you understand, but they seem unusually prolific this year. As a child, growing up in the Northeast (Ee, it were 'ard, we used to eat gravel for breakfast. Breakfast? Gravel?, you were lucky etc) us kids used to collect rosehips in the Autumn and sell them to the local chemist, who despatched them to some stonking great factory to make them into Delrosa, rose-hip syrup, which they then sold back to our mothers at greater cost than us kids got for selling them to the chemist.

Errm? Something not quite right there? Why didn't we just eat the rose hips & cut out the middle man? Not sure that ever occurred to us. Perhaps they're poisonous in their 'raw' state.

Did anyone else do this?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

You wanna Courgette???

I've got 27 to spare.

Yes, the annual courgette glut is in full swing. Industrial quantities of ratatouille are being made (fermented?).

The gherkin glut is just beginning (a mere 13 today). Do I like gherkins? I don't know actually; I've never knowingly eaten one, and I guess I would know if I'd eaten one - they don't look the sort of chap you could eat by accident or without knowing about it!! But I saw this packet of seeds for East European Gherkins and thought they sounded worth a go. I guess I'll like them soon? What do you do with gherkins? Pickle them? Advice please. Save me from myself and the gherkin monster.

We also got the first of this year's runner beans today,

so that glut will be on the way soon. And then there'll be the climbing French. Good job we like them.

And finally, for all you cornflower lovers, here's a pic of the cornflower hedge

and the Bishop of Llandaff.

He's such a poser; gets in everywhere.

No respect

Three times round the world in the 1760 & 1770s and look what happens in your home port. Seagulls crap on your head. Just no respect.

This is of course Captain Cook and we were in Whitby,

land of glorious fish and chips and kippers. The car now reeks of smoked fish but that's a small price to pay for the best kippers in Britain. Others from Craster, Arbroath etc may disagree but, look, you're just wrong. Whitby rules!!

I had one of the kippers for my tea (I am obliged by Madam Wilbury to cook it outdoors on a camping stove, otherwise the house reeks too) and very lovely it was too.

Incidentally, have I ever told you the story of Captain Cook's goat? Oh well, if you insist.

Back in 1768, when Cook was victualling the Endeavour he added to the crew a goat, to provide milk for the officers and the sick. But this was no ordinary goat. This goat had just returned from circumnavigating the globe on board the Dolphin. So, at a time when most people travelled hardly at all and often no further than the nearest market town, here was a goat which had already circumnavigated the globe once and was about to set off and do it again.

The goat, of course, to maintain a milk supply, would have had to be "put to the billy" at some stage along the journey and there would doubtless have been kids (this is kids in the goat sense, you understand). Interestingly, descendants of these kids are thought to survive on Arapawa Island, NZ, and are under threat of a cull.

Great story! Some goat!! Respect!!

Unlike some of his crew the goat came back safely a second time and settled down to an honourable retirement with Mrs Cook in the Mile End Road.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


International Kidney

Grown in a bag on the patio - first of the year. I'm quite pleased with those; and they ate as good as they looked!

A letter from the Council

No, not one of those "mucky plot" letters. A letter encouraging us all to use water sparingly. It was raining as the postman delivered it!

And actually I think it's a bit of a cheek. I pay for the chuffing water! Last year I used the hosepipe (a 50 meter hosepipe because the tap is so far away; that's a long hosepipe) just the once. The year before I used it just the once. But I pay the same for it regardless of how little water I use. Pah!

Now if the Council turned their attention to culling pigeons I'd be out there cheering them on.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Well, it hasn't needed watering

Not long ago I was making daily visits to the allotment to avoid dust-bowl and blown-away syndrome (my Oklahoma home it blowed away). But that was then and this is now. Haven't had a day without rain for nearly two weeks now, and of course it rained on St Swithin's day. I'm not in the least bit superstitious but we do seem to be in a bit of a rut, weather-wise.

Anyway, how's the plot looking? Surprisingly good, if you aim off for the lack of weeding. I was afraid it might have all sprung back into rampant life and got away from me but it hasn't. I think it was so dry it's taken a little while to adjust back to dampness (like me, really). But if I don't weed it soon I'll have lost it until the frosts come. Hoe, Hoe, Hoe yer plot; that's the thing to do. Merrily, merrily etc.

But the beans are looking good

Both sorts

Here's a cheeky little gherkin trying not to show his face

And look at this chap.

I've got dozens just like him. Ya want blackberries; I've got blackberries. Aren't they beauties?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Courgettes & dastardly deeds

The courgette plantation is getting into it's stride.

Blackberries are looking good too.

But someone has made off with my hose connector - my good brass hose connector. Foolishly and inadvertently I'd left it attached to the water pipe the last time I used the hosepipe. The water pipe isn't exactly visible; it's set into a metal box flush with the ground so it wouldn't be on view for any passing stranger to run off with. I've left a note inside the metal box, urging its return, but I don't suppose I'll see it again. I've bought a crappy cheap plastic one instead.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Something completely different

You deserve a break from all this allotmenteering. So do I. I should have been in France this week investigating the allotments of the Quiberon peninsula. But my back went into "lock-up & wince" mode and was heard to say "Camping? Sleeping on the ground? In my condition? You must be joking, matey". So I had to cancel.

But it improved over the week to the point where I could go scootering yesterday. This is the highest point between Upper Wharfedale & Wensleydale.

Next stop the bikers cafe in Hawes.

Five minutes later it was raining.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lovage rampant

Look at this. It's over 6 feet high and bearing a worrying resemblance to a triffid

I'm sadly disappointed by the plum tree though; and not for the first time. In fact the history of this plum tree is one of disappointment in four years out of five. It's only because it redeemed itself last year that it didn't find itself uprooted with extreme prejudice. But this year it's back to it's old habits; there were lots of little plums set but most of them have dropped off. These are a few of the survivors. No plum jam this year.

On a happier note the sweet peas have started flowering although they're a bit runty.

I think the whole plot is suffering from a lack of manure. Autumn job there, methinks.