Archive for the ‘Home Front’ Category

Weapons of Moss Destruction: Not!

Note from author: it’s happened again; I’ve been distracted by the plot, by real life and by apathy. I wrote this thirteen days ago, but it never got posted. Hope it still makes sense. Thanks for putting up with my tardiness.

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It’s well into spring time now, blossom on the plum and damson trees up at the plot, the dessert pear tree that had all of the pears stolen on that point of perfect ripeness is also smothered with creamy white flowers, regularly visited by bumble bees. The last thing we need right now is a punishing frost … so, of course, that is what is being predicted by the Met. Office.

And, on BBC TV that old chestnut Gardener’s World is back to lighten up/disturb our Friday evenings (should we have pruned the apple back so harshly?). Always a harbinger of summer.

Sunny days, it seems, now stretch endlessly before us, although the air loses its warmth once the sun dips below the horizon. We have already had two fire pit evenings, down in the Dell at the bottom of the garden. Time, perhaps to dare to empty the crowded, disorganised shed, all furniture to be returned to its allotted place: on the lawn, on the patio… ?

“Hold those horses,” (a favourite phrase of my maternal grandfather). Why not, before we get all of the stuff strewn across the lawn give it a good going over, y’know: give it a first, high mow, scarify it, spike it, put some fertiliser down?

As an idea it sounded brilliant (as brilliant as any idea concerning a lawn can, but convincing enough: I hate lawns, you understand, and the fuss that is needed to maintain them; hence our part grass, mostly moss, clover and daisy expanse) but really?

Now I know that the perfect, flat, lined lawn with perfectly edged borders is the stereotypical image of an English garden, but not for me. I am not so formal, which may be why I can be mistaken for being idle.

So, out with the spring tined lawn rake, the made-for-children garden fork that we keep at home and a box of After Cut fertiliser (nothing in it to kill moss or weeds (a.k.a. wildflower species)). It’s a fairly big lawn, includes a patch that began life as a No-To-The-Mow concept, then became a wildflower patch and is now partly bark-chipped with ornamental grasses), a Beauty of Bath apple tree, the Woodland Edge with cowslips, Pasque flowers, blue bells and self-heal and is bordered by ill-defined edges. And, with that touch of laziness I can never be bothered to do more than simply follow the lawn mower over it every now and then, I believe that it is the burgeoning moss that gives it the carpet-of-green appearance. Get rid of the moss, end up with a straggly, untidy piece of ground: surely?

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So I began scraping. Honestly though I have waved the rake at the lawn several times since we moved here, over thirty years ago, this is the first time the lawn has been seriously scarified. It isn’t easy work, raises a sweat and so I split the whole into three days work. Do the job properly rather than just – er – scratch the surface.

After the first day’s efforts I noticed a robin, hopping around, picking up scraps of material: moss, bits of thatch, the odd creepy crawly. It was taking the bits into a hole in the wood pile against the wall in the Dell. The place we store fuel for our fire pit … and surely enough, building a concealed nest. Robins are very imaginative when it comes to nesting. As a child I can remember one nesting in a discarded kettle, another in a paint tin without a lid at a factory where I was labouring. But this one, this year, is a bonus for me. We, hopefully have enough fuel elsewhere so can avoid disturbing this bit of the pile. And, equally hopefully the robins will not be disturbed by our using the Dell in summer evenings. There is, of course the problem of the patrolling neighbourhood cats, but who knows …?

Over the next three days my work is completed, some areas of the lawn re-seeded, with a little flower bed soil scattered on top. Most of the moss goes into the garden waste bin, to be collected by the council; but some is reserved to go into our hanging baskets. The work of the robin goes on parallel to mine: quietly, unobtrusively.

It does look satisfyingly rough – I can certainly tell where I have been – when I have completed it. So much so that I take a certain pride in it and the hard work that went into it: strange that hard work can make something look so, frankly, scruffy. But should settle down and thicken up, becoming a tidier lawn again in the next seven days or so, though it may need some additional raking. Here’s hoping.

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Long Days, Spring Days

Thursday was a long day: The end of an enjoyable contract that just kept, wonderfully, extending itself.

Driving home I felt relieved at feeling I have achieved a lot. But also noticing how the world is turning to spring.

Thrush-egg blue skies, still a little fragile, but lighter until much later. It happened – almost – without me noticing. The earth is doing that season-turning thing: as it must and we are now past the equinox (when like some Druidic charm-spell, both light and darkness are, like it says on the can, equal. Half in the shadow, half not.

Now, having read the latest truth in Mark Thompson’s A Spacer Traveller’s Guide to the Universe I realise that what I had believed about the earth taking twenty four hours to spin once on its axis was incorrect. One rotation, I now, rather smugly know, actually takes 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds. This has, essentially been “fudged” by those-in-the-know and the calendar adjusted to accommodate the facts.

(I remind myself gently that change is always going on; that what I believe is fact today may actually change tomorrow … but also remind myself that this is exactly what a fool would be telling himself, and that in this direction lies madness.)

But the hedgerows, most of them cut correctly with regard to providing advantage for nesting birds are battered and tight cut, also have long bright patches of sparkling fresh-leaf hawthorn green: the buds breaking and the tight curled treasures breaking out to begin harvesting all of that extra sunlight. That near-magical mechanism that goes on within deciduous plants is little less than marvellous: biological programming at it most basic and most effective.

In one familiar, often passed by field a fresh cut hedge today looks for all the world like a submarine in one of those Cold War films making an emergency surfacing manoeuvre, to charge batteries, rescue the admiral or release death and destruction – but frozen in mid frame. I had never seen the hedge in this way before though I have walked past it, driven past it, even cut it myself. Strange that new things can occur to us when we least expect them – or don’t expect them at all!

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Beyond the hedges are the latest generation of lambs, or pregnant ewes.. And other fields have been turned over. On this journey, heading north from Tamworth the soil is a characteristic reddish orange, sand based and flat. Nearer to home a field has the whole array of machinery: tractors, plough, harrow, drill and Land Rover. They are processing across the field in a regimented fashion. Agriculture is, and always has been, industry though, usually, this fact is over-looked. In this field it is more than obvious. Big machines, big fields … big business.

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Back at home, when I sit in the back garden with a cup of tea, snacking on leaving present Maltesers (other chocolate snacks are, believe me, available, but will have to wait) I notice the crocuses, wood anemones and timely as ever the snake headed pasque flowers.

Tonight the clocks will – artificially – spring forward.

Then the intensive allotment toil is all to be enjoyed: bean trenches, watering seedlings, planting out chitted potatoes, weeding …

Looking forward to each and every bit of it!

Accurate Diversions?

This is an article that calls out for fly-on-the-wall- photos; unfortunately and as per usual – I got so wrapped up  in the task I , I er … well, I just never got round to taking any. maybe you’ll still enjoy the writing. Hope so.

I started work on it yesterday. Fair to say I have been putting it off, this re-cladding of the double door, one-time garage sized timber shed (for want of a better word) that almost certainly found its way here from use as a storage building on a building site; courtesy of the house’s previous owner (I suspect).

I don’t mind work (I do have an allotment after all!) but to do this justice would always require a degree of accuracy and skill that I like to avoid. Making nest boxes and bee-hotels is one thing, there can be gaps and spaces) but this is an entirely different kettle of roses.

Indeed I left it so long that the work just (stitch in time wise) compounded itself. Where once the ship lad planks just needed painting, next some – and then more – needed replacing, then the frame itself needed attention.

So I investigated, measured, calculated and purchased timber, cleared out one side of the shed (wouldn’t like to be accused of overdoing it) and set to. This, given the random hoarding effect of my nature (a sled, a child’s bike, plastic nuts and bolts from a junior construction kit, a box of Matchbox toys and a five lire can of cam shaft grease and empty wine bottles garnered from a shed load on the Roman road, was a task in itself. But work proper commenced with the left hand door. Seemed sensible: the lengths are shorter, so more manageable, the effect immediate and it gave me practice. Much needed practice.

That was yesterday, when coincidentally we were supposed to be subject to heavy and lengthy showers. They somehow went elsewhere as we had a gloriously warm, sunny September day.

This morning, filed with yesterday’s successes I began on the side wall. It is only a shoulder’s width away from the ten foot brick wall between our garden and G—-‘s garden. Ivy and brambles with spiky stems now as thick as a bricklayer’s fingers had clambered over it, his apple tree branches hanging fruit down into the space – and these, a couple of weeks ago, took some effort to clear. We had a compost heap behind the shed in the days before we had an allotment, the remains of the frame are still there now, with a broken plastic bucket. When I move it a sodden frog emerges from the slime that oozes around inside it. (We lawned over the small vegetable patch we were cultivating and planted apple trees when the allotment was offered.)

I take the task leisurely. Sawing with the sharp recently purchased saw is a pleasure in the autumn-morning chilled air. The skies are high and blue; tomatoes , stripped of leaves ripening in the greenhouse; peppers and aubergines carried into the double glazed, warmer porch, front of house, hopefully to continue swelling. A bee, braving the low temperature swings up inside one of the climbing fuchsia flowers that hang like airborne jellyfish. A wasp crowds the single windfall apple. A blue tit forages in the honeysuckle. Sawdust and wood shavings fall to the lawn like snow.

At different times I mislay the tape measure, the screwdriver, tip over a box of nails and empty the scavenged screws into the recycling bin. Spiders of all shapes and size scurry past or tarry to watch the labour and my work sets hosts of woodlice into frenzied activity as I move stones and timber. Small caterpillars starting to abseil down to the ground from the small leaved lime tree are welcome diversion (what kind of moth/butterfly will they become?)

Although I have an aversion to exact measurements I find the work pleasant; at times all I am doing is loitering with a purpose as Lady Autumn sets out her stall around me. I take a break, eat cheese and home-grown tomato sandwiches (outside of course) and by six o’clock I am satisfied and, it appears successful. Oh, the task is far from completed, but I am in Tamworth tomorrow, and there are more complex pieces to puzzle my way around, but with the nailed up cladding suitably primer/undercoated I have a sense of achievement.

The Winds Have Changed …

If I were human (great lumbering brutes that they are) …

If I had human language, calculated time like a human –

Took it for granted like a human –

Then this would be

2015,

Mid-September

End of summer,

Autumn creeping in …

If I were human,

Thought as one of them,

Named things in the

Ridiculous, disinterested way they do

(Then having catalogued it, so casual dismissive

Let it go) …

I would be

Butterfly.

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I have known vast expanses of colour,

Winged, gloriously anonymously over them,

Drinking in perfumes and nectar

Gorged myself

On treasures offered

Thinking not of the past day

Never mind past lives

(Though the sugars I digest

Drive me forward, impetuous, impatient

And make fairy grasshoppers of my memories

I believe I may be dimly aware

That I existed before:

But that is so, so unimportant

And I have neither need

Nor call to follow those distraction trails)

The winds have changed,

That much I can chart,

The colours I need are fewer and further between

And splendid sun-energy is horribly drained

By the routes I make ‘tween stops,

Powder bright and dull scales topple from my

Banner wings, nights are darker, bite with challenge.

But I will fly with purpose while I can;

Flutter in giddy-clown circles when that option is gone and

Stagger on too fragile limbs to

An eventual ending of sorts.

Bee Rustling? Really?

Liberating a newspaper* from the reception in the Luton hotel I am kind of surprised – because I had never stopped to think about it – by an article on beekeeping – and bee rustling!

We have a couple of beekeepers – and, I think two, hives on the allotments. And try to do what we know we can (there will always be those things we do not yet know about of course) to help honey bees, other types of bee and wildlife in general.

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But this? From the Independent ( a fine newspaper with condensed news, contrasting views and fewer than most advertising)

“The crisis in bee numbers may be a threat to the world’s food supply, but it is also leading to a different kind of problem for apiarists – the return of the old-fashioned crime of rustling.

Fewer bees means hives, and queens, are worth more. North Wales Police are currently investigating the theft of 30,000 bees and three queens from a honey farm in Anglesey – a crime which follows a spate of similar thefts in the nearby Conwy Valley.

Witnesses report seeing a man in a protective bee-keeping suit, leading to concerns that the bee-keeping community may have been infiltrated by rogue members happy to exploit higher demand…

Bee populations fluctuate yearly and the price of swarms change accordingly. With populations being decimated by disease and environmental factors, a guide price for a starter ‘nucleus’ swarm – consisting of a queen and her entourage – has risen to the upper limit of its £150-£250 price bracket. The hive itself costs a similar price.

And as the pointedly old-fashioned crime of ‘hive rustling’ – also known as hive raiding and swarm theft – rears its head, beekeepers are turning to high-tech measures to protect their swarms.

“A hive full of bees is worth up to £500,” says Huw Evans, 46, managing director of Arnia, which monitors hives remotely. “That’s the same price as a laptop, and you wouldn’t leave one of them in a field – let alone lined up one next to the other.

“In the past five years the cost of bees has rocketed. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand: the fewer bees there are, the more they cost. The more valuable, the more likely they are to be stolen.”

We have been in central London: big beautiful London Plane trees making landscapes of the wide, tourist packed streets and warm sunshine. The high windowed walls of historic avenues cast the sunlight down onto the people: the good, the bad, the innocent and the ugly.

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But there are balconies and some are festooned and harboured with plants. But not so many. I guess that the occupants are just not interested in gardening – or else why would they live two floors above the ground with no attached land to care for. But if one of the regular media crusades could just succeed and planting these up became a fashion serious fortunes would be made.

There are unexpected silent spaces in the capital: Victoria park literally next door to the Houses of parliament overlooking the usually-brown River Thames. Dean’s Court, behind Westminster Abbey.

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And after a superb audio guided tour  (and strawberries and cream – why ever not?)of Buckingham Palace : opulent yet human and dripping with artwork and marvellously decorated; each room in coordinated style (The White Drawing Room, The Picture Gallery, The Ball Supper Room), the reaches of the gardens: mostly lawn and lake. So close to business, to packed roads and masses of sight-hungry tourists and commuters, but little sound and no frantic pace intrudes the spaces where coot burrow beneath the layers of white covering laid out to allow the grass to recover from the last garden party.

I wonder if here are bee hives at Buckingham Palace?

*Shameless and I know it, almost as bad as leaving with a book that I was fascinated by: Unbroken, the true life story of Louie Zamperini a U.S. 1936 Olympic athlete, liberator crewman and Japanese Prisoner of war camp survivor. Not finished yet, but it is gripping reading.

Views from the Garden

Warm day, lazy start. We were at a concert last night: the latest re-invention of a fine local band called Quill at the Robin2 in Bilston. Very pleasant way to spend a Friday evening.

And across the fences we can hear the PA system from the Family Fun day? Help the Heroes event at the Star pub. Of course: I had forgotten … The Red Devils Parachute display team were opening the event. Sure enough the Loadmaster plane came round and we had great views of the descent. A fine start to an event in a good cause: community and the people who we depend upon to keep us safe.

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I have given the different components umpteen coats of Country Cream paint. I have managed to assemble the pieces and fasten them together (memories of Air fix models of Spitfires, Lancasters, Panzer tanks, a beautiful all-white Catalina and the Bismarck battleship) and re-paint the whole. Now we set about clearing the space in the border where it will be placed. A couple of beetle banks (old turfs that have rotted down but actually still contain unrotted sphagnum moss) and a sack full of hostile dried holly leaves – good thing this Cadiz Arbour (the place spelled differently where Drake “singed the beard of the King of Spain” – though I doubt anyone at the garden centre knew that) has a roof.

While I am putting this final coat on, however the wet paint is assailed by dozens of soldier beetles. This is the first year we have seen this in the garden (as a child I was a little afraid of them as I believed they were bloodsuckers because of their colour) which may have been attracted to the pale colour. Not sure but a couple of them met a sticky end. Sorry guys. I am particularly conscious of the small things in the garden at the moment, having been to watch Marvel’s Ant man at the cinema earlier in the week.

Sitting in the garden reading (The Bat by Jo Nesbo) I notice the industrious leaf cutter bees. First I spy them on the bee hotel on the garden wall, but later see them actually clinging on to the edges of leave on the small leaved lime tree; cutting through, quite precisely avoiding – I guess the tougher ribs – and before falling out of control hovering then zooming away to their nests.

For dinner we have roast chicken. Eaten outside – yes, it is finally warm enough. Wasps come scouting around and when I have pushed my plate away actually start to take apart a piece of chicken I didn’t eat. When the Head Gardener takes the plate away I put the chicken onto a collapsed bottle. The wasp returns time after time. Using it’s mandibles it severs a chunk – about the same size as its own abdomen and flies away with it. Within twenty minutes there is a queue of the insects. Some of them fight: tiny black and yellow yin-yang symbols. I guess these are creatures from different nests as some also sit on the meat, like miniature vultures and pick at it without animosity. They seem unable to do this, however without constantly twitching their abdomens.

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“I am still hungry somehow …” Head Gardener comments.

“There’s a bit of chicken left here if you want it …” I smile.

The look I get in return would reduce a wasp to quivering jelly.

 

 

 

Recycling?

Despite the fact that the first couple of our North Devon holiday days were wet it now seems that perhaps we did pick the best week to be away. I say “pick” meaning it is not so simple when you have to co-ordinate the working lives of all members of the family. But even so, since getting back and entertaining friends the weather has been cool (if not damned cold!) and miserably wet.

The pumpkins up on the plot have not yet turned into the big leaved bullying characters they usually grow into. The courgettes, usually rampant and doubling in size each day (like whalewort in Ted Hughes How the Whale Became) are there, but small. Big enough mind you to be added to some delicious cakes (chocolate and lemon drizzle).

We have two wines on the go and the recipe for a third sits in the “in-box” waiting for another fermentation bucket.

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The currants are loaded and we have picked more than enough reds – and the cuttings that were taken from the black currants are so prolific too. Gooseberries doing that tough, secret little job that they always do and no blight – yet – on the potatoes.

Back at home there was a plan to build some sort of roofed seat on a patch of border underneath next doors fully berried holly tree. The ground there is, of course unsuitable for most plants. But as I was planning the project it became obvious that we could buy one more cheaply … and head Gardener had spotted one at a garden centre.

It was a bonus that it was actually on offer – and that we could use gardening vouchers I’d had for my latest birthday – but unfortunately none in stock. We could however order one later – and it would be delivered free of charge to our address. Brilliant.

I simply dropped in on my way home (from working in Tamworth) to place the order.

“ Can’ place orders here,” I was told … “have to put out a call …”

After the P.A. request an unenthusiastic-looking assistant approached.

“Simon’s on the end of a hose; he can’t get here.” she mumbled.

“Oh … er … Oh, of course you could ask that lady over there – Bridget. She can order things …” pointing to a lady ringing up incense burner refills on a till in what looked like the weedkillers and chemicals section of the place.

“have to check out if we’ve got any in stock,” she told me, wandering off to do just that.

When she got back lo and behold:

“We have some in stock, I can get one here for you now. That’ll be … “ and she named a price above and beyond the one we had seen in that very store a couple of days earlier – when there were none in stock.

“No,” I said they were on offer, and I named the offer price.

We went to look – to see if I had been mistaken (the very idea of it: really!)

Of course I wasn’t and the price was, credit to the company honoured.

I dragged it home, unpacked it and re packed the car with holiday luggage.

Getting back the weather has been too wet to do anything beyond paint the flat pack parts and pieces (oh, didn’t I mention? Head Gardener would like it to be Country Cream). And the rain, rain, rain has hindered even that process. That Cuprinol stuff does dry amazingly rapidly though!

And – yesterday – we got around to replacing a broken pane of glass in the roof of the home greenhouse. We don’t have a greenhouse up at the allotment, figuring we don’t visit regularly enough to water every day. So we germinate seeds at home and transfer the seedlings to the plot when ready. Somebody (guess who?) made a bit of a mistake putting the greenhouse right next to the eight foot brick wall. Debris landing on the roof over the years has built up. So much so that dandelions grow in the newly created “soil”, and cleaning it out I split the glass. Too wet to replace it – and too cold (tomatoes inside!) not to. Balancing oddly on my Swiss army nineteen combinations multi-ladder and using a screwdriver (don’t ask) we managed to manoeuvre (relieved to have got the measurements right) two new pieces into place between showers.

Now, we have a three-refuse bin collection system in operation here in South Staffordshire. The grey bin, for normal household rubbish; a green bin for garden, compostable refuse and a blue bin for recyclables. Credit to the councils for this apparently sustainable way of doing things. There is a fair range of stuff that can go into the blue bin: metal cans, glass bottles, card, newspapers, carrier bags … but not apparently window glass. It might cut the hands of those sorting the rubbish. Now bear in mind that the bottles, for example are tipped unceremoniously into the collecting wagon and almost certainly broken in the process this seems a rather ridiculous ruling. So the broken glass is taken to landfill and buried, eventually to be unearthed quite literally with the potential to … cut somebody’s skin. Think the council needs to look at this one again: however we somewhat reluctantly put the panes into the grey “landfill” bin.

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The Cynical Gardener

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