Archive for June, 2013

Fruit Cages and Feisty Ferrets.

Have had some scavenged timber of a serious nature stored away in the garden shed for some months now; with plans to create a more permanent frame for a fruit cage. Especially for our blackcurrant bushes.
Well, this week managed to get the final pieces to make the plan work. Had to buy some screws and small bits and pieces but the pigeons are starting to sit on the scaffold frame the guy on the next door plot has constructed (but added no netting, and come to think of it, er, no fruit bushes either) and look down hungrily at our heavily loaded bushes.
 So I have been coating the timbers with fence treatment (left over from another job) and going over the details of the plan in my usually-not-so-practical mind. Both time-consuming

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It took two trips up to the site his morning to get all the tools and materials up there. Plus some milk for cups of refreshment during the construction.
A bit of banter with Alan and his wife – and a taste of his delicious, warmed by the sun strawberries –as they were leaving. Then started the carrying.
Second journey my foot caught something on the path. Now I can trip up over absolutely nothing because I don’t always look where I am putting my feet, but this obstacle followed me down the path, rubbing itself against my ankles.
A friendly ferret that had slipped out from beneath Alan’s shed.
I put down the planks I was carrying and lifted the creature up. It was amenable enough, rubbing the top of its sleek head against my other hand and feeling completely relaxed.
Now several thoughts were racing through my mind – at the same time. Who did it belong to? Was it a pet? A working (hunting) ferret? What should I do with it? Letting it go did not seem an option. There are birds with young and nests in the hedgerows. Besides, was it possible the hob (for such it was) did not know how to hunt/care for itself?ferret
I had to ask Jim if he had a box and the best he could manage was a plastic supermarket box. But the ferret was becoming restless now. Took a bite at Jim’s cheek. Drew blood. Then fastened itself onto the back of my hand – and held on. Teeth like needles. And twisted. And kept on twisting. Tried pulling it away. It held on. Smacking it on the nose. Held on. Put its feet on the ground. It held on and pulled backwards. I was thinking about plunging my hand into a water butt, when it squeezed its jaws together.
Ouch!
 Instinctively I snatched my arm up and swung. The little blighter let go. Jim carefully herded it into the box. We put some wire netting over the top and tied it on with some industrial wire (there’s all sorts on a good allotment you know?).
My hand was bleeding and swelling. I put the box down in the shade of a compost bin and finished emptying the car. Wondering all the time what to do next. R.S.P.C.A. somebody suggested. Let it go in a field behind the school.
Lots of people “wandered by” and took an interest, including one guy who wondered if it was a stoat. I ask you, really?
Eventually “Jonesy”, who was about to leave the site said his neighbour kept ferrets – so off the ferret duly went.
As soon as the car had driven through the gates I knew I should have taken a photograph! To prove to my wife that there was a reason I had not done any more on the fruit cage.
Back at home we bathed the bite, small puncture marks almost invisible once the blood had been wiped away and applied a plaster (with Burgess’ Lion ointment – a family stand by and cure-all for many generations now).
After dinner we returned to the site – and actually got fruit cage completed.
We also rigged up a temporary net structure over the white and red currant patch and watered the range of growing crops that need watering on a warm day (thank you!) like today.

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Coronation campaign to revive wildflower meadows

Green Living London

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Sixty “Coronation meadows” have been identified across the UK as part of a new campaign to restore threatened wildflower meadows.

The campaign, launched to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, follows reports of dramatic declines in many of the UK’s meadow flower species. The project, led by the Prince of Wales and three wildlife and livestock organisations, will take seed and green hay from these designated meadows to recreate new ones.

One Coronation meadow will be named in each county by the end of the year. The 60 meadows identified so far represent some of the UK’s “outstanding” wildflower meadows, according to the team.

As part of the campaign, people will be able to find out where their nearest Coronation meadow is using an online map. By the end of the year, 107 such meadows will have been identified to add to Prince Charles’ own wildflower meadow at his…

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Plots, Squalls and Charity

I had a friend, let’s call him Steve (why not? His parents did) who was a marvellous storyteller. Steve, at one point in his often-job-changing life had worked as a welder on a North Sea oil rig. He came back, to the pub, as usual, with a wealth of stories. About the former U.S. marine sergeant who had banished his “roommates” from the four bunk cabin to sleep in the corridors. About how the service boats used computer-satellite links to keep them in position when they were delivering pipe. About the load that fell from the crane then bounced off decking and missed killing a whole repair crew because they all were in the head (that’ll be toilets to you and I then) before finding their marble-run to the high swells of the moody sea, always visible (and slightly nausea-invoking) through chequer board grill p deck plates.
About a squall moving so quickly across the sea, and him not knowing what the klaxon meant, that he had to rope himself to a steel rail with his welding hose … and after the quick-fierce thing had passed was, quite literally frozen to the metal.
Well, squalls like that have made the Charity Gardens Open day today a bit of, let’s face it, a quiet day.
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Committee members turned up and waited through the day, making endless brews and snacking on broken biscuits.
Directions in the programme – which lists properties taking part were not, er, well, not direct in our case (our first year of joining the scheme), but ingenuity sorted that out, with our own signs.
Twelve visitors braved the weather – and told us how much they enjoyed the time, how tidy the allotments were and how surprised they were that the site was so big (or, in one case that it was there at all!).
The winds battered blackberry plants into submission (no easy feat!), shook runner bean canes and carried the rain horizontally at some points. At times it was possible to see the Wrekin (tradition says that weather travels from the Wrekin to our site in about thirty minutes). Today it seemed faster than that.

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Money raised by the event goes to Katharine’s House Hospice – and we were all glad to have joined in. The little money that we raised will help, we hope.
But in the meantime there was time for banter, inevitable discussion about crop varieties, and just talking about the world: politicians, the Iron Curtain, the Cold War, extradition, coffee, schools, what it takes to be a magistrate, Plimsoll lines on ships (is it TF (tropical fresh) at the top and WNA (Winter North Atlantic) on the bottom or the other way round?
We came away with a few extra books, a whole lot colder – though not frozen to any metal – and having agreed to share leeks and melon plants.
Wimbledon next week: so I am guessing the squalls will stay for a while.

23/6/2013

Trip To BBC Gardener’s World Live

Eight thirty in the morning. Saturday. Three dozen people. A clean white PKS coach and a clear M6 to the N.E.C.
Five thirty in the afternoon. Thirty six people. The return journey.
In between: a satisfying day, dodging showers and walking around two halls of the N.E.C. with a dead-battery camera, open wallet, ticket for the plant crèche and a sense of delight.
Local news stories had given out that the Gardener’s World Live Show Saturday tickets were sold out. We joined the throngs of slow moving, patient gawkers and those clearly overprescribed on retail therapy.
There was a lot to see. The show has rarely been about gardening techniques: more a way of bringing the curious, the celebrity seekers and impulse buyers together, perhaps trading a little too heavily on the success of the popular BBC TV series.
When you added “free” entrance to the BBC Good Food show reason may, for some of the above listed, gone out of the potting shed window.
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I enjoyed the Gardening for Wildlife sections, got some new-ish ideas for “upcycling” materials and took some interesting identification sheets for butterflies and insects. We walked past a crowd obviously trying to listen to Monty Don, the mass of “believers” well outside the limits of the seated “theatre” so truly impossible to hear: but for some ladies of a certain age it may just be that to see the man urbanely, smoothly taking his time, with long we’re-all-friends-here, aren’t-we? Pauses between snippets of wisdom is more than enough. Later, when we were all “shopped out” and had fifteen minutes to lose, we were able to stand and watch (and hear) the diminutive Carol Klein, burbling on about raised beds, how people from Bolton are incapable of growing mint (at least I think that was what she was saying). But at three something in the afternoon, she was not her usual TV jack-in-the-enthusiasm box self.
Seed companies were there, promoting (and reminding) what seeds can still be planted: useful. A few more stands featuring poultry in gardens. Got a packet of aquilegia seeds for our eldest daughter who has been told they grow anywhere and have anti-slug properties.
The Floral Marquee was a worthwhile shelter, there to duck into out of the sharp storms of rain and wind (that seem to be making this a genuinely low-temperature June). The clues are in the name. This is a vast circus-come-market area filled with plants. All very well presented. I particularly noticed how many exhibits this year have at least a small water feature (in some cases a simple “puddle”) – which can only be a good thing in my wildlife-friendly mind. I was particularly taken by the Birmingham Library exhibit – taking snaps of this my camera finally expired.
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We bought some plants and seeds, but, eating a tasty ham and cheese sandwich I was given to muse, somewhat smugly perhaps, that a lot of the people dragging ankle-biting (usually pink) wheeled carts around the show had little or no idea how to care for the plants they were buying and would need to come back next year to buy replacements. (Hope that won’t be us!) … oh and we just managed to resist signing up for a Scandinavian wood-cabin … I think.

Special thanks to les and Den, who did most of the organising, shepherding and worrying.

Photosource: stock shed in meadow: http://www.gardenersworld.com/galleries

B.I.G. !!

OK. OK. We’ve got plot holders with big equipment, heavy duty strimmers; rotavators as big as small tractors (usually orange and noisy) and hedge cutters that would be at home in a Mad Max movie (the Englishman wants to say film, but the writer  is going for alliteration, forgive me) …

But, this morning, as promised:  

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How schoolboy impressive is that!?

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The local branch of Finning, suppliers of the mighty Caterpillar plant machinery had been kind enough to donate the use of a demonstration driver and machine to seriously level and clear the remainder of the “raised bed plot community plot”.

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The precision and skill of the expert driver soon began to make a difference to the site. The machine’s hydraulic equipment, back hoe, front jaw lifting bucket working from a smooth base provided by ram jacks that sunk – a little alarmingly into the earth, but caused no problem for the operator. The back hoe, indeed, extended a remarkably long way, so could manage the work efficiently and effectively.

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For a large machine it was remarkably nimble, keeping its weight off the concrete slabbed paths that provide access to the hundred-plus plots we have on site. This, make no mistake is to the credit of the driver; who was approachable and professional (and liked milk and sugar in his tea). It was also impressively quiet

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The weather stayed – mostly dry – and while we talked with each other and Tracey, the Marketing officer from Finning’s – the work was completed … and I tried for more photos.

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 Well, come on, how often do you get chances like this? My thanks to everyone at the allotment for their work so far on this part of a worthwhile project and to the staff at finning’s: on one hand promoting Our Coldest Journey (www.ourcoldestjourney.com) with a Caterpillar in the Antarctic and on the other hand helping out a very local project.

 

Taking The Pea?

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My fault – of course.
Been part of a working party up at the site this morning: clearing rubble from the place we are going to build raised beds (for people with some disabilities and, perhaps school/community groups).
The weather forecast had not been good, but it stayed fine; large blue skies, little wind and no rain. With nine turning up to lend a hand we made good time. Moved pallets, black plastic sheeting* that has kept the ground beneath marvellously weed free, bricks, slabs, timber and a shed (the roof in one go, the door next and with “sedan-chair” handles nailed to the sides of it the four walls and floor in the third lift). Clever thinking and the people to do it, that’s cooperation.
We were also able to cut a long length of the inside of the hedges. The parish council are responsible for the outsides and tops of the hedge, plot holders for the insides.
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Then a quick inspection of our own plot: Lots of small apples on the trees now that the blossom stage is past. The newly raised, raised bed is looking established. It is much higher and that feels a little strange at the moment. The potatoes I spent most of yesterday earthing up still look a little battered, but they usually do – and soon recover.
Peas seem to be recovering from the pesky little beetles (?) that take bits out of the young leaves, turnips, pumpkins, squashes, lettuce all looking settled and flowers on the broad beans … before coming home for a lamb dinner. Dessert? Rhubarb from the plot and custard.
I then started to talk about going back up to plant a second row of peas … if it didn’t rain. Less than thirty minutes later, a sharp wind moved in, bending the buddleia and escallonia hedges and shaking the small-leaved lime tree in our back garden.
Three flashes of lightning and fistfight punches of rolling thunder!
Then heavy-artillery rain, flooding the gutters on the house as it fell so fiercely. The sky so greyly overcast.
So … no planting peas then**.
But, on the bright side: the space is cleared and that feels very positive. We have plans for Finning Caterpillar to send a machine and driver up tomorrow to do some earthworks, moving soil, levelling and setting out the site. It will be good to get the work done as it has been in the planning/talking stage for a long time already.
Now, just hoping that, if I keep quiet the weather will be OK for our organised trip to Gardener’s World Live on Saturday.
*Builders sheeting: I would now recommend this for use as a ground clearing method: it clearly worked on this site.
** Actually, just back from shopping, the weather looks good – just saying – maybe I’ll go and throw a row of peas in.

Unsung Heroes

My apologies for getting somewhat out of synch, but this was written (ball point and paper) while we took a break.

Hope you appreciate it:

On the allotment this morning, with a pair of hand shears, clipping the long grasses, dandelions and various self-seeded herbs along the three paths that separate the plots. The paths were (a) very untidy and (b) sheltering too many snails and slugs! Hand shears? Because I have failed to understand (so far!) in typical fashion how to rewind strimmer line on the machine that might make the going faster. Then in to the car and a patient drive to the overnight Premier Inn stop in Carlisle en route to the Isle of Skye. Once settled in the right room I drove down some amazingly quintessential English (and so far north) country lanes (sunken single track roads bordered by ferns, bluebells and cowslips with bank-top hedges of bright quick thorn or splendid elephant leg grey beeches.) to stand and think for a travel-weakened hour or so on Hadrian’s Wall.

But back to the way station in time to catch Gardener’s World: A Chelsea Flower show Special.

It’s the centennial show and there is a thought-waking exhibition featuring wheelbarrows. There have been wheelbarrows working at every Chelsea Flower show, the designer (whose name I can neither recall nor find on Google or Ask Jeeves !!) explains to the camera. Used to build the gardens … indeed used to build much of the world: gardens, canals, roads, railways, houses, factories (sorry, I won’t go on, you must have the idea by now)… and there is an early wooden wheeled, wooden hulled model there (iron-tyred) and the one they used to move the materials for this garden. Beyond the low box hedge there are barrows inserted into the ground by their handles (thus becoming representative of the people who have pushed (should that be followed?) the barrows around; the handles are legs, the wheels heads. From above they  form a triangle: the single one at the top is gold, the two below it are silver, then three bronze (anyone remember the Olympics?) – the remainder are green.

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Barrows and the people who pushed them over the years: a fitting tribute.

 Our current wheelbarrow at the allotment is one our next-door neighbour let us scrounge. It need some nuts and bolts (recycled of course from things I have carefully dismantled in the past) and the inner tube is probably more patches than original now. But it works, is comfortable to move and carries a good load. It had been a building site barrow. The body is plastered with, well, plaster and cement which occasionally flakes off and adds to the soil (but usually not).

Dave and his wheelbarrow; fame at last!

Photosource: Daily Mail

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