Allotment News ~ Late June Edition

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Lately, between showers, I’ve been enjoying the company of birds on my allotment plots. First there’s been the pheasant family – Mr and Mrs and a single puff-ball chick. The adults make soft puck-pucking calls to each other as they wander up and down the weedier areas beyond my borders. I suspect they may also have been nibbling the celeriac seedlings which I’m not so pleased about. More recently I’ve been pursued by robins and hungry blackbirds. They have been most excited by my turning of several compost heaps. One blackbird in particular is adept at filling her beak, five worms at a go, dangling down like a mouth full of ribbons. The robins just nag, moving in at ever closer quarters, and piping up whenever I look like flagging on the heap turning front.

And talking of heap turning, in my last update on plot doings I was feeling a bit despondent over plans to adopt no-dig gardening methods. I realised I would need a phenomenal amount of compost. I think I’m talking tonnes here.  (The main principle of no-dig being that you cover all the growing areas with several inches of compost every autumn so you don’t need to dig in spring and thereby upset the balance of soil micro-organisms which create fertility. It also cuts down on weeding and watering). Anyway, I can now report some success, at least in a small way.

Back in March I was inspired by TV gardener Monty Don to try growing new potatoes in a raised bed. I had one ready, with its autumn compost topcoat well applied, so I thought, why not? In went my twelve Pentland Javelin earlies, set out in a grid formation. I simply popped them into the compost layers, placing them around 40 cms/15 inches apart. I then buried the lot in several inches of compost, and covered the bed with horticultural fleece. Later, once they’d started sprouting, I earthed them up with more compost (which accounts for why I found myself short of the stuff later). A fortnight ago, once flowering was over, I pulled up the first plant to see what was going on. And here’s the result (cue fanfare):

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And coming up next is the raised bed where the rest of the plants are still going strong. I used 2 plastic raised beds (2 x 1 metres) bought from a departing neighbour a couple of seasons ago, each a hand’s span tall, and placed one on top of the other to create enough depth to contain the earthing up compost. The end result of this is: no weeds and no need for digging up. When it comes to harvesting I simply pull up the plants and have a quick scrabble around in the compost like a lucky dip. Also, I’d fully expected slug damage after all the wet weather, but so far there’s none to be seen. In fact these are the best first early spuds I’ve ever grown – in looks, taste, ease of extraction and quantity per plant. And, I repeat: no weeds!

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And so, with all this vegetable encouragement, and a break in the rainy season, it’s back to the compost bins and bays and my demanding avian companions. More waste gathering and turning are definitely required. I’m thinking now that no-dig can work, even on my claggy Silurian soil – albeit one raised bed at time and with mega quantities of compost. In the meantime, here’s Mrs Pheasant, a view of a scarcely visible chick, and a bee in the nigella:

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Chatsworth Revisited In Sepia

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When it comes to horticultural bling, the gardens of England’s grand houses take a lot of beating. They were of course designed entirely for the purposes of showing off the fruits of questionable gains, whether acquired through creative accounting practices in the service of the monarch, strategic marriage alliances, political opportunism, slave owning or straight forward pillage.

And so it is that, along with the overbearing edifice large enough to house a small-town population, the surrounding designer parterres, avenues, arbours, grottos, fountains, cascades, Greek temples, and goodly cavalcade of deities and other mythological beings, could be seen to confer legitimacy, privilege and status on arriviste owners  and their subsequent offspring.

Here at Chatsworth, home of successive Dukes of Devonshire, the formal garden alone extended to one hundred acres. The earliest version was created in 1555 by Sir William Cavendish (he of creative accounting fame) and Bess of Hardwick. Over the next three centuries the layout became increasingly extravagant in a bid to complement the palatial makeovers effected on the house. In 1836 the 6th Duke appointed Joseph Paxton to re-design what were then termed the ‘Pleasure Grounds’, and it is Paxton’s influence that is most in evidence today.

In particular, he was charged with re-engineering the Emperor Fountain as seen in the photo above. For 160 years it was the tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world, the jet having reached a record height of 295 feet (90 metres). It replaced the earlier Great Fountain, itself a wonder of hydro-engineering, until the 6th Duke thought Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia was intending to visit, and so had it mind to outdo the Tsar’s Peterhof Palace fountain. To me this seems incredibly rude, hospitality-wise, and in any case the Tsar never turned up, although the fountain continued to be named for the visit that never was.

…the Emperor Fountain is the spirit of novelty, dashing its endless variety to the skies…

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On the day we were there it was windy, which meant the fountain was turned down. Even so, it was doing much blowing about, and producing some very pleasing rainbow effects in the autumn sunshine, and in fact rather living up to the 6th Duke’s exuberant description of it. On the other hand, if you didn’t keep an eye on its movements as you wandered the lakeside lawns, it could also give you a surprise dousing.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Lawn Ornaments

Dyfi Ospreys ~ ‘Reality TV’ At Its Best

Monday morning on the Dyfi Estuary and we woke to rain and lowering skies. Time to go home.

We’d just had a very good three days in Aberdyfi, in a flat overlooking the RNLI Lifeboat Station and the beach. More amazingly, given that we were in Wales and that the British Isles were/ and are continuing in rain-between-showers mode, we hardly got wet at all. We wandered on the beach that goes for miles, explored the narrow streets and paths of the old slate trading port, scrambled inland beside the River Dyfi, ate some very excellent fish and chips (in the car to avoid being mobbed by seagulls), and visited next-door Tywyn to watch steam trains at the Talyllyn Railway. (We Farrells know how to enjoy ourselves). There were even intervals of blue sky and sunshine.

But there was still one thing left to do. It involved a short deviation from our route home, and all weekend, as I’d been clutching the Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve leaflet, I’d been wondering if our weather luck would hold.

And it did. By the time we’d packed up, the rain had stopped. Next stop the Dyfi osprey family.

And that’s pretty much all I’m going to say for now. But we warned – live-stream watching can be addictive. There are three chicks in the nest, with both parents coming and going. When you click on this, YouTube will tell you the service is not available. Click on the Dyfi Osprey Project ‘Live’ window underneath the message. And if that doesn’t work, here’s a link on the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust site: http://www.dyfiospreyproject.com/live-streaming

Also if you want to see some wonderful photos of an American osprey family, pop over to Tiny Lessons Blog.

And It’s Still Raining…

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Today, an errand that involved ordering shower room parts took us out of Shropshire and into Worcester. We’d been putting off going since Monday, the weather being so dire. But this morning the three-day deluge had reduced itself to heavy drizzle, so after a fortifying coffee, off we went.

I find bathroom showrooms dispiriting places for all sorts of reasons, but it had to be done, and mission completed, and the vile, multi-islanded Kidderminster bypass survived in both directions, we felt that soothing surroundings were needed. And since our route took us past Dudmaston Hall, which being National Trust has a very pleasant cafe, we decided to call in for lunch. And very nice it was too with the big log burning stove blazing away. (Anyone would think it was October.)

Afterwards we had a wander in the gardens. Many of the roses had been crushed and their stems battered down, but I thought they still looked beautiful in their way. So here are some more with their fallen petals, photos taken with Sue Judd at Words Visual in mind. Sue is a wiz in her studies of decay and transience.

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But it wasn’t all mayhem. One walled border that comprised mainly wild flower species – foxgloves and red centranthus in particular – was thriving in the rain.

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And out in the parkland among the buttercups there were some very contented cattle browsing lush meadow grasses.

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Rain Between Showers And Sweet Wild Roses

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And so many associations too: old tales of a princess and a poisoned spindle, of a derring-do lad with thorny ramparts to vanquish and kisses to impart. Then there’s the therapeutic qualities of Rosa canina, the dog rose. Herbalists have long used the dried petals in compresses for the eyes and as a tea to soothe digestion. And of course the bright red hips of autumn are still valued for their high vitamin C content. If you were a child in Britain during WW2, and indeed for some years afterwards, you will still remember the taste of rosehip syrup, promoted by government during the war-time absence of citrus fruit. The hips are said to have 30 times more vitamin C than an orange.

And rose petals are indeed edible. In times past I have been known to crystallise them with a coating of gum arabic, rosewater and caster sugar, delicately applied with a small paint brush. Once they had been left to dry in a warm place, I would serve them with creamy lemon syllabub and homemade meringues. A memory then of my culinary ‘dog days’ – of a June without deluges, and the dog roses scrambling airily through hedgerows suffusing the lanes with their delicate scent.

All the same, the flowers do look rather lovely scattered with raindrops – not too many, mind. Which rather brings me to John Coltrane, and my favourite version of My Favourite Things. I’m hoping some you like it too:

 

 

Lens-Artists #49 Favourite Things

This week Patti has set the ‘favourite things’  theme, so pay her a visit and be inspired. And here’s what she says about the Lens-Artists weekly challenge: “If you’re new to the challenges, click here to learn how to join us.  Remember to link your post here and tag it Lens-Artists to help us find your post in the WP Reader.

Next week, it’s Ann Christine’s turn to lead the challenge, so be sure to visit her blog.  As always, Amy, Tina, Ann-Christine, and I are delighted that you’re joining our challenges!

Beautiful Damascus streets, filmed over the days of Eid

Some heartening scenes from today’s Syria. Eva Bartlett is one of the few Western journalists who has made repeated visits to Syria over the past few years. Her reports are based on her first-hand experiences and her conversations and interviews with Syrian people.

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As charming as these scenes are, I’ve had many tell me over the years, including recently, that holidays are tainted with massive sadness for those martyred and maimed by terrorists and in the fight against terrorism and to restore peace to Syria.

I always feel the need to note that these street scenes of tranquility would be impossible without the sacrifices of the Syrian army and allies, and that until the liberation last year of eastern Ghouta, and Yarmouk and surrounding areas, these streets were being constantly targeted by terrorist mortars and missiles, amounting to *at least* 10,000 civilians murdered in Damascus area alone, although I’ve heard higher estimates.

Related articles:

US-Backed Terrorism in Syria: A First-Hand Account of the Use of Mortars Against Civilians (September 2014)

University Hospital, Damascus: Meeting Victims of Western-backed Mortar and Rocket Terrorism (February 2015)

Terrorists’ Attack on Damascus Restaurant and Homes:…

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June On The Plot ~ Before The Rain

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This year it’s been a case of less blogging and more digging. And yes – to those of you who follow my gardening pursuits – I have not forgotten that for ages I have been trying to follow the tenets of ‘no dig’ gardening. I really do want to, and in spirit at least I hang on to Charles ‘no dig’ Dowding’s every soily crumb of wisdom. But the big thing is he gardens in Somerset in the mild south west; he does not garden on the side of Wenlock Edge where the land comprises 400 million-year-old Silurian clag that sets like cement at the slightest opportunity and does so even when you’ve piled on the compost.

In fact all the usual things that gardeners add to heavy soil to improve drainage – sand, grit, well rotted manure, lime – are grist to its mill. It seems to suck them up and then sets harder still. Clearly those decomposing  residues of fossil tropical sea bed – crinoids, trilobites, giant scorpions, volcanic ash and all – must contain something  very, very sticky – some geologically ancient equivalent of super glue I should think.

In other words, the chances of my making enough compost to apply each autumn across both my half-plots and to the appropriate depth that might make an actual difference to the soil are extremely unlikely.  Instead, and by way of cutting coat to suit cloth, I eke out the compost I do have, putting it only in the spots where I intend to plant, and rarely attempting to cover an entire bed. Also, given the challenging nature of the soil (and its slowness to warm up), I rarely sow directly in the ground, but germinate most things in individual pots or trays.

The first photo shows the result. On the left are climbing peas (currently half grown height-wise). This is a heritage variety called Ne Plus Ultra – sown three or four seeds to a 4” pot in February and planted out around the end of March. I’ve not grown it before (it was recommended, if not rediscovered during the making of the 1980s Victorian  Kitchen Garden TV series), and I’m looking forward to the results given its show-off ‘cannot  be bettered’ claim.

I’m also thinking that my head gardener grandfather, Charles Ashford, who as a boy underwent the full Victorian stately pile/hierarchical gardening apprenticeship, would have been very familiar with this variety and also with Alderman, the other main crop climbing pea I’m growing this year. One of the advantages of these old varieties is that they produce pods gently over the whole summer season, whereas the modern short cultivars crop at one go and need to be sown in succession if you want to extend their season.

Pea growing tip: peas germinate really well in compost filled lengths of plastic guttering (no need to add drainage holes but water in just enough to keep the sowing medium moist). When it’s time to plant out, and the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, slide the lot (wheesh!) into a shallow trench, draw soil round, firm in and water; protect from birds and provide small sticks for them to climb up. This sowing method of course foils seed-plundering mice and pigeons, and gives the plants a head start.  And if you are growing modern pea cultivars, it makes successional planting easier to sort out – e.g. you can sow, say, a metre length or two of guttering at two-weekly intervals. IMG_1999

But back to the top photo. On the right you can just see the runner bean bed. These plants were germinated in small pots and a couple of weeks ago planted into the remains of an overwintered compost heap. (The other half of the heap had been spread along the Ne Plus Ultra bed prior to planting).  Runner bean plants always struggle to begin with, no matter how healthy the seedlings. The allotment harbours some leaf-chewing pest that is not a mollusc. So far, and most annoyingly, the culprit has not been identified by he who is a plant pathologist and lives in my house – but every year it has a good go at everyone’s freshly planted out runners. You just have to hope they’ll grow through the setback. They usually do. Again I’m trying a new-to-me heritage variety. It’s called Liberty and has a reputation for producing large and succulent pods. Its seeds when I came to sow them were surprisingly enormous, and I’m secretly expecting multiple versions of Jack’s beanstalk. So if I suddenly disappear from this blog, you’ll know where I’ve gone. Or at least how I’ve gone.

Elsewhere on the plot the broad beans, strawberries and three different sorts of globe artichoke are beginning to crop and are proving delicious; beetroot seeds of many varieties are sprouting, including an old Gallic sort called Crapaudine which is French for Madame Toad. Parsnips, sugar pod peas, mixed lettuce, young cabbage plants and potatoes are looking sturdy though the cauliflower plantlets are definitely struggling and I have no idea why, nor what is causing some of the onions to start going to seed. Another unidentified pest is nibbling the tough leaves of the celeriac seedlings but not enough (so far) to kill them. Bought-in leek and sweet corn plugs are settling down, as are the ridge cucumbers and squashes. In the polytunnel the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers are growing well – so far.

Meanwhile in our corner of Shropshire we now have a week and more of April-Showers-In-June to look forward to. Gardening is on hold, though in anticipation of resuming same I’m most grateful to the volunteer footpath people. On Thursday evening they brush-cut the field path, thereby providing me with a large quantity of unexpected compost makings – or they will be when I can get out there to rake them up. This kindness also means that when it is fine enough to next visit the allotment, I won’t arrive with rising damp and knees soaked through by overgrown vegetation. So thank you Strimmer Man. You did a good job.

Here’s the freshly cut path before the rains moved in. You can just  see the polytunnel tops over the far hedge:

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And here are more Thursday evening shots of Farrell half-plots one and two which are in separate places due to my wanting one with a polytunnel on it:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Love-In-A-Mist ~ The Allotment Constellation

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Nigella damascena is a wonderfully self-seeding annual that has been grown in English gardens since Elizabethan times. It is much loved for its sky-blue flowers (sometimes also white or pink) and its delicate ferny leaves. And of course, once the flowering is done, there are the strikingly odd sputnik seed capsules to admire.  Though seen here in monochrome (with a hint blue), the flowers already have a distinctly alien look. I took this photo last night at the allotment. I have several self-seeded clumps around the vegetable plots, and they are just beginning to flower. It’s always good to mix things up like this, the flowers not only attracting the pollinators for the fruit and vegetables, but also, in the case of French marigolds, diverting crop pests. And talking of crops, or ones in the making, here’s a rather fine pea flower:

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge ~ flowers of any kind