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!

Once the spuds are lifted, I’m planning to use the empty bed for winter sprouting broccoli and kale.IMG_8449

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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Look Out! The Wood’s On Fire

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For one reason and several it was nearly 6 pm by the time I headed to the allotment yesterday. It had been a perfect day, an almost summer day, and I was sorry I’d not gone gardening sooner. There were, after all, the first early spuds and onion sets to plant, and parsnips and peas to sow, and several other jobs to be done. When I did finally get myself there, the sunset was so brilliant, I took to snapping scenes like this instead of doing what I’d meant to do. The rooks watched me from their gathering points on the powerlines, and even let me take their photo. Otherwise, I had the allotment entirely to myself, and there was that deep sense of the plots settling down for the night, free of their gardeners’ interventions.

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I did make it to the polytunnel eventually. And in the remaining half-light planted out some lettuce seedlings in one of the raised beds. Then sowed some Early Onward peas in pots, since sowing them in the ground only seems to feed the mice. I also decided it was time the sprouted Aqua Dulce broad beans, likewise sown in mouse-avoiding trays, should go outside on the potting bench under some fleece before they grew to used to the warmth in the tunnel. And I had just stepped out of the polytunnel to fill my watering cans, when I saw this:

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A moon in the pink, and the rooks flying over it. And I thought it probably was time to go home. And so a few photos later, I set off across the darkening plots, scrambled through the gap in field hedge into Townsend Meadow, again beheld the moon in picture book mode, this time over the Priory ruins, and thought how good it was to be alive, and that this was my first ‘home from the plot by moonlight’ of 2019.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Spiky Squares #21

Learning ~ One Little Bug At A Time

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Leaning over the garden fence the other morning, I caught sight of a tiny moth flitting about in the guerrilla garden. It stayed while I went indoors to fetch the camera, and obliged me with a few shots.  Then I went back inside and googled ‘very small diurnal moth UK’ and ‘images’ and up it popped. A Mint Moth, says the font of some wisdom that is my PC –  Pyrausta aurata. The butterfly conservation link also told me that it flew actively in sunshine (which is was doing) and particularly liked spearmint (which is where I found it and where you see it here). I confess a frisson of success: ID done and dusted.

It’s a dainty little thing  – 70mm across/ three quarters of an inch. Here are a couple of closer views:

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Colour Scheming ~ It Caught My Eye

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In my last post I muttered about the shortcomings of close-up shots because you lose the wider setting which may have much more to tell you. But I took this one because it made me smile: the contrast of the green longhorn beetle on liatris spicata; the liatris against the green grass, and the congruent shade and form of beetle and the blades of grass. Not a scheme I would wish to replicate in my own home, I hasten to add.

Liatris, with its tall purple spires, is now an English herbaceous border staple, and another magnet for insect life. But its true home is on the North American prairies where it has the names of Prairie Gay Feather and Dense Blazing Star.

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The first photo was taken at the allotment where my neighbour is growing insect attracting plants, but I have also grown it in my garden for the first time this year – seen in the second photo along with all the rapeseed dust from the previous night’s harvesting. (There are disadvantages to country living, and the  combine harvester’s dust and chaff cloud that buried our house and garden was one of them).

Now I know where liatris comes from, I have a sudden yen to set it free to colonise the fields of Wenlock Edge. I see it growing up tall as tall nodding its plumed heads over hillsides of wild oats – and no more compacted earth, chemical sprays and harvesting dust. Still, I know too that this is exactly the sort of impulse that has led to major biological disasters across the world, not least the devastating spread of the very lovely water hyacinth, which also grows in alluring purple spires, choking the waterways of the African continent and beyond, making poor people even poorer; killing livelihoods.

It was most probably a colonial gardener in the former Belgian Congo who was responsible that piece of horticultural mayhem; the plant escaped from a beautifully contrived water garden and up the riverine systems of Central Africa and into Lake Victoria, far away from its native South American quarters where there are local natural forces (weevils) to keep it in check. It has infested North America too, where there is big business in selling big water hyacinth harvesting machines.

So I will contain my expansionist inclinations, and enjoy the liatris where it is. It is actually a medicinal plant, well known to North America’s first nations, the Cherokee in particular, and used to treat many conditions.

And now for some more striking flower-insect colour-scheming – a green shield bug on my dusty Russian rudbeckia, grown from seed last year – another floral (hopefully benign) displacement.

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No, This Is Not My Polytunnel

Polytunnel spotted on the path to Koroni, Messenia in the southern Peloponnese. And now for some more scenic Greek roofs to conclude Becky’s very entertaining June squares photo-jaunt. Didn’t we do well. And a big round of applause for Becky.

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THE END

Roof Squares 30

Six Word Saturday

The Changing Seasons ~ May Has Been Very Yellow

Spring has been all of a gallop this month, as if plant life is set on making up for lost time. Within the space of two weeks the rapeseed field behind the house went from muddy, over-wintered, pigeon-scoffed plants, scarcely a foot high – to a billowing yellow sea taller than me. (Oh, the unbridled power of agri-chemicals!)  It has anyway been great fun walking down the tractor trails within the crop, completely surrounded by sweet-smelling eye-high yellowness, and coming home covered in petals.

Now though, the flowers have almost gone, helped on their way by the last two days of storm and cloud burst. This morning it is foggy over the Edge. Fog in May? And I can’t see the wood at the top of the field.

In the garden there have been changes too. Behind the house, on our top level, the last scrap of lawn had been dug up, and the shed of He Who Builds Sheds And Binds Books now has a smart gravel forecourt, complete with red geranium in pot, which really isn’t what a chap wants outside his lathe and screw-collection domain, but I think looks jolly. Btw: the shed doesn’t actually have a chimney. Not too keen on the plastic water butt, but it’s there for now – water-gathering over aesthetics.

Our neighbour Roger also gave us some wooden sleeper pieces, left over from his own garden make-over, and these have now been used to contain the main herbaceous border beside said shed. The border has been blooming with aquilegias which are now giving way to alliums, foxgloves, euphorbia and oriental poppies. I have also  put in the plants bought at the Arley Plant Collector’s Fair last week (previous post), and am looking forward to china blue scabious and sweet scented phlox in a few weeks’ time. The bed is now officially FULL.

The narrow border on the left hand side of the gravel, and above our kitchen door, has also been given a containing wooden edge by re-purposing timber thrown on the bonfire heap at the allotment and duly carried home across the field. Yesterday I noticed that the small Coxes apple tree that is growing there is now busy making apples. So soon. It was all blossom only last week.

Now shed-building man is wondering what he can do to the old privies to stop them being head-banging, dysfunctional garden sheds, this while still retaining rustic quirkiness. At the moment a very fine, self-planted foxglove is growing beside them so operations are presently on hold.

Out at the front of the house, half of our boundary is open to the kerb-side. I have replanted the border with assorted verbascum, alliums, centaurea, hesperis, foxgloves, hellenium hoopesii (very yellow), Whistling Jack (a magenta, Byzantine gladiolus) and a few other things, including a small weeping crab apple called Red Jade. This border is my cultivated response to motorists who insist on breaking the 30mph speed limit (and the law) by speeding along Sheinton Street at 40mph and above.

And now here are more scenes from the Farrells’ May garden, beginning at the front. It’s all rather rampant:

And in the back garden:

 

 

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The Changing Seasons

Please visit Su to see scenes from her recent trip round NZ’s South Island

Going Quackers On The Way Home From The Allotment

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Now is the time of year when I often meet the Three Ducks on the path to the allotment. Despite all their owners’ fencing-in strategies,  they continue to escape through the hedge from their nice garden pen – out into the big wide world of Townsend Meadow. Clearly a duck finds far more exciting things to do in a field, though they always stay together,  keeping up a constant reassuring chatter.

I usually try to shoo them home, but the other evening they were so busy with something on the path, I took them by surprise. Then it was  a case of ducks all of a dither.

‘Now what shall we do?’

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Panic!

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Regroup for a more dignified retreat and take ourselves home.P1050542

 

Nothing More Cheering Than A Marigold

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This marigold had its photo taken on 22nd January. She was growing in my strawberry bed, one of several  plants that have spread themselves hither and thither on my allotment plots and been quietly flowering all winter. They make their own sunshine, don’t they. Though I think even they will have been defeated by the current Siberian onslaught. I have not ventured over the field to see.

For hundreds of years the marigold has been much loved by herbalists. Its properties comprise a complete pharmacy – from healing skin conditions to boosting the immune system and many disorders in between. I usually just add the petals to salads, or as a garnish to rice dishes. The colour alone is enough to lift the spirits.

I’m also hoping that Debbie and Becky won’t mind my killing two challenges with one marigold:

Six Word Saturday  Please visit Debbie to see a very shaggy sheep.

March Squares For this month Becky has set us the daily challenge of posting square photos featuring either squares or circles. You may post as inclination strikes.

Dandelion Dreams ~ A Bit Of Magic On Monday

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These dandelion ‘clocks’ are putting on their own firework display. If I had my gardener’s head  on, the sight of so much imminent seed shedding would cause me much frustration. Fury even.  I have spent hours, days and weeks of my life trying to keep my allotment plots and paths free of them. I have even tried seeing their good side: cropping them for their young salad leaves, making dandelion tea, roasting their roots to make coffee (very good for the liver). I also know their long tap roots release nutrients locked deep in the soil. And sometimes a field full of dandelions can look, well, beautiful.

Which brings me to the image above. I clearly had my photographer’s head on when I snapped it, and with the camera in dynamic monochrome setting. And then I edited it a little, and so emerged these magical structures. And there we have the top and bottom of it. Once we stop fighting the natural world, we can see how very wonderful it is. Or at least some of us can. This does not appear to apply to the corporate strains of our species.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Cee’s Black & White Challenge: patterns