Posts Tagged ‘swallows’

A Bit of Spring, A Bit of a Walk.

A couple of days ago we took a drive over to Carding Mill Valley, near to Church Stretton. It is one of the places we like to walk. This being the Easter holidays the lower portions of the valley were crowded with families for it is an ideal place for children to do the things that children do in fast flowing streams: paddle, build dams, “fish”, fill buckets, get their clothes wet and just relax. The water is very clear and the flat areas beside it crowded with parents and grandparents. Some enterprising youngsters have brought cardboard and a re “sledging” down the steep valley sides on pieces of it. But we took a walk upwards, out past the Townbrook Lake where there were fewer people. It was hot in the valleys sheltered from the spring wind, the sun powerfully beating down. Slopes are steep and terrain demanding; we went a little bit wrong after crossing the Burway road, but followed a sheep path down to Lightspout and around onto Mott’s Road. Deserved a cup of tea at the national Trust café after the exertions, but at least a little annoyed to hear some people (who should know better) moaning about having to pay to park their cars. The charges go towards the upkeep of this beautiful piece of scenery, keeping it clean and accessible. We are members of the National Trust and feel it is worth every penny!

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Facebook postings from our daughters (Swithland, Leicestershire) and my sister (Wiltshire) tell of the first swallows arriving to begin nesting. Here I believe I have seen high flying martins (but, honestly they might have been starlings!)

I look out of this morning window (a mile and a bit from our allotment) to a watery blue sky. It rained overnight after a week of unseasonably warm weather (highs of 19 Celsius). Yesterday there was TV talk (in the news and weather forecasts) of high levels of air pollution: Saharan sand mixed with poor quality air from Europe and our very own traffic fumes conglomerating mainly over the south east.

While it was fine we planted our early potatoes (Arran Pilot) in the “thin plot” as well as our “Charlotte” salad potatoes.  “Thin plot”? You need to be aware that although almost certainly all plot started life as roughly the same size over the years – and on our site that is more than a hundred and twenty – boundaries drift and alter. Is that a universal thing? You tell me. So this plot is, quite literally, thinner than most. In the “hedge plot” (a.k.a. the shed plot) we can get eight potatoes in a row, we only manage six in this plot. To make  a full row I try something my grandfather (“Grandy” to me) would do. Cut the largest tuber in half, dipped the cut end in soot and planted the two halves. It will be interesting to see if it works; I am fairly certain it used to work for Grandy. The ground has been dug over during the winter, weathered and forked over again just before planting. We take out a spit of earth for each potato, add some proprietary fertiliser and some pelleted chicken manure, then place the tuber in the hole and hoe the soil back around each one. It is satisfying work and by the time we have finished we have filled up a fair portion of the land available. I really enjoy the planting side of allotment life. It feels like something has been achieved in a way that simple digging over ground doesn’t. Is that just me?

In the greenhouse I have planted leeks, cauliflower, two varieties of cabbage and parsley. Also I have tried to germinate tomato seeds from a couple of freebie packets of out-of-date seeds. Watch this space.  It was while inspecting these now germinating seeds that I came across my first wasp of the year. Almost certainly a just-awoken hibernating queen, she sounded like an old BSA motorbike as she bumped off first one glass pane then another. There are peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies on the wing, ladybirds creeping over forget-me-nots and both cowslips and snakes-head fritillaries are unfolding in our back garden. The cowslips indeed are spreading wonderfully albeit into the lawn.

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There are peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies on the wing, ladybirds creeping over forget-me-nots and both cowslips and snakes-head fritillaries are unfolding in our back garden.

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We are heading to Suffolk for a couple of days break and, although I sat out on the back lawn yesterday looking at planting instructions on the countless packets of seeds that are still unopened – and though I feel that tugging impatience – it seemed best not to sow them until we get back.

The allotment hedgerow has had a bit of a trim, the blackberries sending out quite vicious streamers, the thornless blackberry is tied in and pruned and rhubarb is doing its thing next to the path. Blossom is starting to appear on the fruit trees.

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Ants and Nests.

Bright days all around us at the moment, with frost maybe showing its face on Friday night/Saturday morning. The blossom on the fruit trees doesn’t seem to be affected. There’s none on the Opal plum tree, but the dessert pear is absolutely loaded.
Up on the plot Saturday morning. The rotary lawn mower that had been left out for the “tatters” and intercepted by me on an evening stroll is absolutely perfect for walking-and-cutting the paths between plots after a bit of adjustment and oil. It was, to be fair almost brand new. The grass on the paths has been allowed to grow too long (my fault entirely!): the strimmer’s automatic feed stopped feeding and this mower is brilliant. Well, it will be now that the grass is short again.
Used the spade to put a proper edge to one of the plots (the other two are edged with board – but it ran out) and the red handled fork to fetch out the buttercups. Then, wearing gloves sprinkled some Perlka on the ground we intend to put the cabbage plants into. They’re hardening off now after germinating successfully in the greenhouse. This Perlka is supposed to be the “bee’s knees” but I have also read some fairly controversial stuff about it. Any opinions or extra information you can supply will be seriously considered. We are trying to be generally eco-friendly and at least some of the articles I have read suggest Perlka helps soil microbial life. But also, convincingly it also said that it helps against club root. Snake oil salesman or what? Watch this space.

I hoed the stuff into the ground and we have to wait a couple of weeks for reactions to take place before planting. It needs moisture apparently to start a chemical reaction that releases hydrated lime and this benefits the plants, especially brassicas. I wore gloves – which I found to be awkward, but better safe than sorry my Nan used to say.
Moving a board which had been left on the plot in the process I discovered that within a very few days ants have built a nest underneath it. The white eggs and young ant larvae are quickly picked up and shuttled away by the industrious workers. I cannot begin to imagine the alarm that accompanies the lifting of the lid on an ant’s nest.

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There is a local robin that was soon on the scene. Opportunist in an allotment: what a perfect spot. We believe it has a nest somewhere near. It was certainly collecting food to take away this morning. I pause to watch his – or, forgive me – her efforts.

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Elsewhere we see the first high-flying swallow looping around the buildings opposite. Reminder of the season’s moving ever on. The dandelion flowers are also turning into “clocks” at an alarming rate.
We heard the cuckoo some weeks ago – while walking on Cannock Chase.
Lots of material to go onto the compost heap: weeds, the unrotted leaves from the leaf mould bin; the rest spread out as a thick top dressing: full of fat worms. Where is that robin?
We sow carrots in raised containers to ward off carrot fly (it has worked in previous years and marvel at the tops of potatoes showing through the soil. Strangely the Charlottes we planted last seemed to be the first – and strongest so far.
Back at home the grass needs cutting and the hover mower seems heavy: funny that. The seeds in the greenhouse are germinating very successfully: beetroot, leeks, wildflowers, sweet peas, sweetcorn, courgettes … in short everything. The pelargonium cuttings are taking their turn to harden off too.

I have to confess, however, that while I was busily blundering about fetching seedlings out of the greenhouse to harden off I inadvertently scared a nesting robin from a wall mounted nestbox near to the greenhouse. I am saddened by the desertion as I seek to attract such marvellous wildlife into the garden at every opportunity. She clearly felt that the site was not ideal, made the instinctive decision and went, I guess, to another site. I wish her luck, of course. Meanwhile, not so easily disturbed, the great tits continue to inhabit the hole-fronted nest-box (oft-repaired) on the front of the garden shed.

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