Archive for May, 2016

The Overseer’s Throne: Like the Alarm-Clock Bed – But Not!

“Avengers assemble!”

Sorry, meant to type “get all the bits and pieces ready to – eventually – start work on the pallets-into-bench project!”

See, I was never any good at following plans (except those for Air fix model planes that always started “glue the pilot (Fig A, part 1) to the seat (part 2)) and I am not exactly famous for reading instructions for, for example Scandinavian self-assembly furniture. Much to the Plantation Owner’s Wife’s disgust and the exasperation of our daughters.

So, I think I’m best with a stack of random material and an idea. Just a concept mind. Then I begin work and evaluate and adapt to whatever is happening in front of me. Think eccentric illustrator Heath-Robinson meets inventor Theosophilus Carter* and Tony Stark after watching repeats of Nick Park’s Wallace and Grommit.

Image result for wallace and gromit  Image result for heath robinson garden

Somehow it helps if the material is free and I have time and sunshine. So the plasterboard pallets recently scrounged were a real bonus. They fulfilled the original purpose of edging the wildflower segment of our allotment. But then a second hand park bench style seat donated by a relative is getting very shaky. So shaky indeed that we never risk sitting on it in case we have to get up off the ground.

And I had this vague idea of replacing the timber slats. Just undoing the bolts, cutting some new ones from scavenged timber and replacing ‘em. But when I came to try it the nuts had inconveniently but unsurprisingly rusted on to the bolts. Refused to be shifted. Of course I could have got the angle grinder out …

But divergent thinking to the rescue. Make an entire new bench from the pallets. These are proper pallets: sturdy 4” X2” timbers between 6” X 1” planking**. Softwood of course but mostly smooth planed.



Just a vague plan in my head I began. I used the original piece from the park bench to get a width then cut and changed bits and pieces. A tape measure bought for me by one of our daughters (it still has the “Hello Dad!” tag on the useful post –it section) came in useful _ I confess that in the past, carried away with things I have used string to measure things! The answer to the unanswerable question (given to me by a builder down the years):

“How long is a piece of string?”

“Double the distance from the middle to one end – of course!”

I also decided to hang the expense and purchase new coach bolts for safety. But arriving at Screw-Fix I didn’t have enough money – who knew that thirty plus bolts, nuts and washers would come to more than ten pounds, a barley sugar and a spent AA battery?

But eventually things come together. Not always smoothly. But a tweak here, a change of plan there. Like the addition of arms: there were simply enough pieces of timber around begging to be used (“We would make great arms,” they were saying, “please use us!” – luckily I speak Softwood, so understood). I made the necessary cuts, held the pieces where I wanted them to go and drilled the holes for the bolts, so much better than measuring and setting up. Adds to the rustic charm – or am I kidding myself?


Oh and while I’m at it I add extra wide arms so that each of us will have somewhere to rest a mug of tea!

DSC03305 DSC03297

With everyone in the garden spying on progress Frankenpallet’s bench eventually saw the light. Bulkier than I had at first conceived but really secure – and – er – it will fit into the dedicated alcove in the hedge up on site.

Won’t it?




*Not only believed to be the inspiration for The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland but also the inventor of the Alarm-Clock Bed that was on show at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

** A lot of cargo pallets, being disposable have only single wooden blocks or compressed wood dust separators. Which we use as fuel  for our fire-pit. One evening, drinking wines and beers by the fire a guest asked whether the tings actually burned. So we duly stuck one on. This one didn’t actually burst into flames, but it glowed intensely – and next morning was still intact until poked with a stick. At which point it disintegrated into orange dust like some artefact from the planet Mars. In honour of said guest we now know these blocks as “Lesleys”.


Where the biggest potatoes grow?

A blog post from Romania?
My friend (and fellow blogger) from Brasov who visited us recently published this.
How could I not re-blog it/
Thanks Cornelia …
așteaptă cu nerăbdare data viitoare

Cornelia's Blog

I am a very busy primary school teacher involved in some international projects so I travel a lot. My last journey was in England and it was one of the best ever: beside project work, I met good friends and I understood what English country life meant.

London… lot of people, crowdy streets, impossible traffic, Buckingham Palace, rush hours in the tube, red buses, Westminster Abbey, expensive food and souvenirs, parks, pubs, the Thames, any language of the world, Big Ben in Elisabeth Tower…After five days of exploring and struggling the city I took the train to Birmingham International to visit my friend Paul and his family.

Country life in England was a great experience for me as I was a part of common values shared by the English community: allotment for growing the favourite taste, sound of silence, ”dangerous” forests, incredible gardens telling stories, tea and porridge, ancient cathedrals…

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Plans, Planes and Plasterboard Pallets

I first met Cornelia (see Cornelia’s blog at ) some years ago in Brasov.

She seemed intelligent, curious, sociable … and spoke incredible English (with intuitive understanding of both idiom and my – some would say peculiar – sense of humour). Our friendship developed in the few days together and we remain connected in a way that social media is so good at allowing us to do.

What then was more natural than inviting her to come and stay with us when she found herself in London as part of an international project?

She capably managed the train journey to Birmingham International and we spent some fine times together as she learned, for sure, that England is about more than London.

She visited the allotment and was absolutely captivated by the sense of growing and community on the site. So much so that she volunteered to go back and hoe potatoes: above and beyond the call or what?


Watching BBC Countryfile (an item on Jersey potatoes, famous here as the first new potatoes we get from within the U.K.) she is nonplussed. The tubers are tiny, there are so few of them. In Romania it seems they plant the potatoes in autumn, snow stops them sprouting and they are harvested in prodigious amounts in June. You live and learn eh?

Image result for jersey potatoes harvest

It is fantastic to compare gardening and agricultural notes with someone from another national background.

In a leisurely fashion we walked over Cannock Chase (Brocton Coppice down to the stepping stones with an obligatory tea and cake at the Springslade Tea Rooms). We visited Lichfield Cathedral where I lit a candle for Cristina ( a mutual friend) and looked at the historical buildings around about.

Image result for brocton coppice cannock chase   Image result for stepping stones cannock chase  Image result for lichfield cathedral

Too soon, of course she had to leave and both the Plantation Owner’s Wife and I were sad to see her go. Real friendship is a marvellous thing, but the penalty of international ones is the inevitable time you must spend apart.

I drove her to Manchester Airport, dropped her off at the wrong terminal and joined a traffic jam for several hours on the way home.

Then my mother visits. She is flying from Birmingham to Valencia via Amsterdam on Thursday. Can I take her to the airport? No problem I reply. It means I have to be up in time to get her there for oh-seven-thirty but it is manageable.

Image result for birmingham airport

After all she did use my internet to check in for the flight: change the seats, ask me to leave my mobile ‘phone number instead of using her own (for flight up-dates and latest info) and give my e-mail address too.

I don’t sleep very well; get up before the alarm goes off, turn it off and mooch about until the appointed time. We make good time, I pay the one-pound minimum charge at the car park and, once again – you’ve guessed it – join lengthy queues to get home.

Plantation Owner’s Wife meanwhile was unable to sleep because a scaffolding team arrived very early to dismantle the equipment from the house next door but one. I try and sleep for an hour, but eventually give up, get up and set about that bench-from –pallets project.

So, it’s out of the garden shed with my trusty, ancient Black and Decker Workmate, two seen-better-days saws and a dyspraxic’s-dream tool box.

Then my ‘phone goes; the train-entering-a-station ring tone that annoys me, but that I, lazily, cannot be bothered to alter.

It’s KLM. My mother’s flight has been cancelled. She can fly tomorrow, they will book her on to the flight … can they speak to her about these changes?

Of course not!

She’s at the bluddy airport!

If only she had given them her ‘phone number instead of …

So I ring my brother. He is ferrying his daughter and we smile about the confusion and potential chaos.

He will ring her, let her know, fetch her or ring me.

Fine: back to my tantric bench building.

For ten minutes. I hear the house ‘phone, nearly kill myself running through the house to answer it (I really should tie my laces when I am working and racing about!)

This time it’s mom. She has persuaded KLM to pay for her to stay overnight at the Airport Hotel. All is fine. To save her paying for a text could I please ring my sister to explain all?

Before she can give me further taskettes to do my brother calls on the mobile ‘phone. I put the ‘phone down to mom. My mother is not answering her ‘phone, he tells me. Either she has switched it off. Or cannot hear it.

I explain the story-so-far.

Phew! We can both go back to our normal lives – as normal as is possible in twenty first century Britain anyway.

Back to planning that bench: now where was I?


One Job leads to …

The Plantation Owner’s Wife, training at OSP Fitness noticed a skip outside, with pallets leaning against the fence. She asked the workmen if they minded if she came and collected them. They were delighted. Even more so when she told them that they would be used to make raised beds, compost heaps and allotment structures rather than just be fuel for a wood burner.

So we put the back seats of the trusty Vectra down, packed the saw and set about reducing said pallets to a size we could get into the car. Now ordinary pallets are little more than a lifting challenge, but these were the larger sized beasts that plaster board is packed onto. So ingenuity, including using a discarded electrical cable as a measuring device, came into play. We sawed, man handled and took each and every one of them away: three journeys since you ask; but enough timber to build a decent edge around the wildflower area/beetle bank – and some left over for other jobs (still to be decided*).

Up at the plot we manage to get the timber surround erected amazingly rapidly: good teamwork. It has the effect of making the wilder section look defined, so more official – and, hopefully acceptable.

Then we set to making and drinking tea. Which creates a “medical emergency”. No panic, we have a straw filled bucket for just such eventualities. Then in a sequence reminiscent of “there’s a hole in my bucket dear Liza” we realise it needs re-strawing. That the straw store is a little damp. That the straw store could do with tidying out.

Hmmm. This entails emptying the whole container (alongside our two compost bays). Chain, timber, plastic bags, water bottles, and the soggy straw (which goes straight onto the compost).

Unfortunately there is a small, embryonic ball of the nest of a bumble bee in the straw. But it all has to be shifted – or none.

There is also a wasp’s nest – exactly where one was last year. Interesting, I wonder is this normal?

Some of the timber is waterlogged, but not rotten. We heave it all out to dry off. Some is consigned to the vicinity of the brazier (to wait for a dry Friday), some will go to my mom’s for kindling.

The bean canes are up and ready, hops in place to hold the netting that’ll keep pigeons off the brassicas. But the weather witch is predicting low temperatures, so we decide to hold off planting these out – for the moment.

Meanwhile the peas are up, but at a height of less than ten centimetres are subject –as usual – to some little critter (a flea beetle maybe) taking bites from the foliage. They usually manage to hang on, get taller and produce pods.



Lettuce are settling in, broad beans forming and we have added the spring set onions to those started last autumn.

OK, the paths need strimming, but it is all taking shape quite nicely: apple, pear and strawberry blossom adding their magic.

Just need a little more warmth.

Anybody listening?

*I do have this idea, however that it has to be possible to build a half decent garden bench from pallets: I just have to get my head around the technology and enough nine inch nails (my preferred method of joinery!).








Progress and Visitors

Things are all go up at the allotment again.

We have been putting in some solid days and making solid progress. I refused to panic and rush to get the potatoes into the ground. It simply felt that the ground was too damp and too cold. But over the past two weeks, a few rows at a time we have been dropping them – and potato fertiliser into the soil, while the frosts have continued. Other plot holders are hopping around, needing to earth the emerging shoots up, while ours, if they are still healthy, have yet to emerge.

Our greenhouse shelves, floor and all spaces available are heaped with seedlings awaiting transplanting, having been pricked on already. Onions (red and yellow), courgettes, peppers, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, a new plant called Brokali and various flowers (Cosmos and French marigold – super companion plant).

Bumble bees have been raiding the plum and damson blossom and there are the open tapestry-stitch flowers on the dessert pear. The various apples yet to open any blossom.

The repaired hedge is productive and thickening out nicely now: pea sticks from the hazels and willow in there.

And the hedgerow fruit, gooseberry, Jostaberry and thornless blackberry are massing up finely. We added sulphate of potash to the strawberry beds to boost the flower and fruit production (if I got it right that is).

However while digging I was forced into the shed to shelter from a hailstorm (pictures available at ). I not only had to back away from the door, but actually close it so forcefully was the tiny pellets of ice being driven across the ground. But, immediately after the sun came out and a pair of robins visited – time and again -and pillaged the raked over soil for grubs. They seemed to be using the hedgerow path to come on to the ground and the opposite path for the return flights: a redbreast one-way system.


A scrounged bath we had tried to use as a raised bed was emptied of soil and moved, prior to taking it up to the tip. But, on shifting it we discovered a host of amphibians nestled beneath it: two common toads, a large frog and a newt. The discovery reminded me of how freely we wandered the countryside farmland as kids, catching these critters in jam jars. Now some newt species are on the UK Endangered Species List. I think this was a young great crested newt, but seeking confirmation, and wanting to do my bit for conservation, having taken a couple of photos I sent them to the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.



Can anybody out there advise me?

Confirm my identification?

Is a license necessary to handle newts these days?

Should any other authorities be notified?

We saw some on the plot a couple of years ago – and, clearly they are stil here. Using the wildlife friendly ponds I believe to reproduce and benefiting from the organic methods we employ and the burgeoning hedgerow.

Felt really proud to have them on the plot!


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