Manhattan From The Staten Island Ferry

Our trip to New York a few years ago coincided with a heat wave. It was too hot to think or walk far from the iced coffee stalls in Central Park, or the cooling air conditioned corridors of the Met. The other best place to be was riding the Staten Island Ferry.  Nice breeze. Stunning views of Manhattan and dead cheap.

 

Thursday’s Special: please visit Paula and pick a word that inspires you. I’m going for ‘soaring’.

The Changing Seasons: And Most Of Them Happened In June

So much weather in June! The header photo rather sums up my feelings of rapid changeability – flowers in the garden one minute, then gone the next.

Here in the UK we’ve sweltered in temperatures above 34C. We’ve had prolonged drought. There have been cold winds. And now this week we’re having a ‘mini-monsoon’, the temperatures dropping so it feels and looks more like October. Yesterday along Wenlock Edge there was even fog, and this morning when I went outside to survey the plant life, it was to find autumnal spans of spiders’ webs glistening with raindrops, and the newly opened sunflower looking as if it wished to go back in its bud. It looked so forlorn staring at the place in the leaden sky where the sun should be.

On top of that, the last of the Teasing Georgia’s roses have been trashed and mashed, the foxgloves that were so stunning are all gone, and the allium seed heads (that look like floral fireworks ) are alive with the tiniest crab spiders, all busy being rather sinister despite being scarcely more than two millimetres across, and just out of their eggs. This first photo makes said arthropod look monster sized. For a better sense of scale look out for the spider on the second allium shot. It’s near the bottom edge, left of the flower stalk.

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But all is not lost in the garden. The late spring flowers may have been washed away, but the spires of verbascum are just opening, the yellow doronicum is doing its best to stand in for the sun, and geranium Rozanne is now on parade until the first frosts. Of course, as things are going, that could be next week. Who knows?

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Changing Seasons (versions 2 and 1)

Cloud Shadows Over The Great Rift

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I have just come home from the allotment with very wet knees ( the grass on the field path has suddenly shot up half a metre). It is a gloomy, drizzling evening here in Shropshire, and has been raining now for two days. This is very good of course. We’ve hardly had any rain since mid-May, and it’s a big relief not to have to water the vegetable plots. The veggies are very happy too – all upstanding  and glistening in the rain. The only thing is I think we have water-resistant soil. When I went to sow some Florence fennel, the surface compost was damp enough, but an inch down the soil was dry as desert sand.

More rain required then.

The advent of rain is of course a critical factor in the growing of smallholder crops over in Kenya where this photograph was taken during the July dry season. Very few rural farmers have ready access to piped water, reservoirs and water courses, and so irrigation systems are thus not feasible unless you are a very rich big landowner.   The monsoon seasons on the Indian Ocean are responsible for the country’s rainfall. It comes in two seasons: the short planting rains roughly October to December and the long rains in April-May. And so the clouds you see here, may be bringing shade, but they are not bringing rain.

And even in season, this is increasingly the case as Kenya’s forests dwindle. Without its tree-covered uplands, which invite the clouds to drop their moisture, the future will bring only increasing desertification. Or else when it does rain, there will be more flash flooding and landslides to carry off the fertile top soil.  Climate change, then, has both local and global origins, and we all need to think about this, and the part we may play,  wherever we live on the  planet.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

Thursday’s Special: over  Please visit Paula to see her totally stunning photo.

The More Things Change…

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The come-hither finery can be safely shed: the insect lure has done its work, leaving the fruit capsule primed and fattening; its contents – miniscule parcels of poppies-to-be – busy ripening, waiting on sun and wind to complete the enterprise. Nature in action. Where would we be without it?

 

Daily Post Photo Challenge: delta – i.e. an image showing transition, or the passage of time

Maasailand In Black & White

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I do not think of Africa in black and white, and when we lived there during the 1990s it was still in the days of conventional photography, and only colour film was readily available. So I am rather intrigued by these monochrome edits from the old Africa photo file.

They were taken in August – in the cool, dry, gloomy season, and the time of the wildebeest migration. We had driven down to the Maasai Mara from Nairobi under lowering skies, taking our visitors, Chris and Les, on safari. The roads were dusty and the bush country parched and dreary looking for mile after mile.

Amongst other things, the first photo shows how empty the landscape can be of wildlife,  or indeed of people. In the distance is the Oloololo Escarpment which forms  the north west boundary of the Mara Triangle. The tented camp where we were staying was on the Mara River outside the park, and part of the Mara Conservancy, a reserve managed by the Maasai themselves.

The lone tree is a Desert Date (Balanites  aegyptiaca ), and is typical of the open savannah where its presence is highly valued by humans and grazing animals alike. It fruits under the driest conditions. The tree has also long provided traditional healers with remedies; like the baobab, Balanites is one of Africa’s tree pharmacies. The fruit’s outer flesh was used for treating skin diseases, and preparations of the root and bark were used to combat malaria.

The oil within the fruit in fact has a host of remarkable properties. It has long been known that it kills the freshwater snails that carry bilharzia and the water fleas that are vectors of guinea-worm disease  (Trees of Kenya  Tim Noad and Ann Birnie). It has also been studied more recently by Egyptian scientists who reported their findings in the the 2010 Journal of Ethnopharmacology.  Their laboratory tests revealed anticancer properties for certain human carcinoma cell lines, as well as demonstrating selected antimicrobial, anthelmintic, and antiviral activity.

An all round useful tree then.

The shape of the trees in the photos is also typical. The result of having their canopies nibbled by passing giraffes, although there are none in sight here – only wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelle.

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Black & White Sunday: typical

Never Mind Jack And The Beanstalk

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See what I grew from a handful of bean seeds – four pounds of shelled Field Beans from one square metre of raised bed (excuse the mixed metrification). For those of you who do not care for Broad Beans, these are their much smaller, juicier cousins, although they are all known as Vicia faba, faba or fava beans.

They are one of the oldest Old World vegetables, their remains found on ancient Neolithic settlements in the Near East, where their cultivation probably originated some 8,000 years ago. From there they spread across Western Europe and North Africa. Today, of course, they are perhaps best known as a staple of Egyptian cooking, the dried and rehydrated beans forming the basis of falafel.

I use them to make soup, or refried beans or a bean version of guacamole which is surprisingly convincing. Otherwise we just eat them steamed with melted butter and chopped parsley, or add them to a green salad with a vinaigrette dressing .

In the UK this small-beaned cultivar is usually grown as a green manure, or as animal fodder. As green manure it is good for breaking up heavy, clay soils. The seed is sown in autumn (September to November). The plants will germinate quite quickly, and are left to over-winter. In spring, once they have shot up to about half a metre or 2 feet, and before it flowers, you are supposed to dig them in. By then the roots will be quite deep, and they also have the added benefit of fixing nitrogen. A good follow-on crop would be cabbages or broccoli, or any brassicas.

I prefer to grow mine to eat. Not only that, they have wonderful flowers that waft their scent over the allotment in late spring and get the bees very excited. The plants require no attention. Slugs don’t care for them. I grow them in blocks which tends to make them self-supporting, so I don’t add string supports as you need to for broad beans. I don’t feed them or even water them, not even in our increasingly arid springs. I do, however, pick off all their growing tips at the end of May to discourage black fly invasions.

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Growing Field Beans to eat seems to me like a win-win-win situation. They feed me and He Who Is Presently Building A Shed; they feed the bees; they feed the soil. They also freeze well, and there will be enough to dry to sow in autumn for next year’s crop. And then there’s all the top growth to add to the compost heaps. You  may perhaps have noticed the bean weevil damage on the leaves. It is one of many endemic pests at the allotment, but their nibbling doesn’t seem to affect the crop. So now please conjure the sweet, subtle fragrance of bean flowers. There is no scent quite like it. Aaaaah…magic beans!

Copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday

Please pop over to Debbie’s place at Travel With Intent. She’s currently hosting 6WS

Vision Of Things To Come ~ Thursday’s Special

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The endless envisioning of how plants will grow and crop is what keeps us gardeners gardening. In the face of failure we regroup, and start again – perhaps a different variety is required, or more careful cultivation techniques; maybe weather conditions were against us, so prompting us to think how we might come up with new strategies to reduce the worst effects if the same thing happens next year.

So it becomes an on-going pursuit of forward thinking, learning, re-learning and visualizing. I find it also helps to try and see things from the plant’s point of view. If I were it, am I getting everything I need: food, appropriate levels of moisture, protection from extremes (which among others can include ravages by aphids, pigeons, drought and tempest). With climate change we may have to rethink entirely the kinds of fruit and vegetables we grow.

This year I am probably growing too many sweet corn plants. I thought the first lot of seedlings were set to fail after being assaulted by several days’ torrential rain while I was away. Just in case, I sowed more seed. But then the shredded little efforts rallied, and the second sowing burgeoned, so now I have about three dozen plants on the go.  They are greedy crops too, and also need lots of watering, which is hard work up at the allotment where cans have to be filled and hauled from the water tank. The site is also very exposed, and its heavy soil prone to turning to concrete at the slightest hint of a drought.

To cope with this I have adopted two different approaches. The later batch of plants has been planted out in a bed of deep litter from a dismantled compost heap. Hopefully this will both shelter and feed the plants as they get going and stop them drying out or needing quite so much watering.

The earlier batch I set out in a plot where I have overwintered trefoil and fenugreek still growing. I sowed these plants at the end of last summer as a green manure, and had meant to dig them in this spring. Then I had a much better idea, one that relieved me of much digging. When it came to plant out the sweet corn, I simply popped the seedlings in amongst the green manure plants.

There are all sorts of advantages to this. The fenugreek and trefoil are nitrogen fixing so should nurture the sweet corn. They also act as weed suppressants as well as providing shade and shelter to the developing plants.

So far this seems to be working quite well. I’m also trimming back the trefoil and fenugreek as the corn grows, so acquiring a crop of green stuff for the compost heap and to use as mulch around the beans, which also like to keep their roots cool and moist.

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So now my vision is of summer’s end and lots of juicy golden cobs – perhaps enough for us and all my allotment neighbours. We’ll see…

 

Thursday’s Special: vision

Did The Earth Move For Me? Not Blooming Likely. More A Case Of DIY

All right I confess. I’m a fraud. I call myself a writer, but in reality I move soil.  Year in and year out I move soil. It has become my lot in life – not only on the home front with The Man In My House  Who Keeps Having Ground Moving Notions, but also on my own time up at the allotment. How did this happen? Was this the plan I had for myself?

This time last year we were busy shifting ten tons of gunky green Silurian clay and the junk of builders past, removing a huge and hideous waist-high flower bed outside our back door. We had lived with it for ten years, but finally it had to go. Ground Moving Man, then became Wall and Steps Building Man – using traditional mortar and the old bricks and limestone lying around to place to build a much neater, narrower raised border, and safer steps to the top of the garden. (Our cottage is built into a  bank).  The effort was as momentous, as it was cunning. The Wall and Step Builder had devised a way of dismantling the old steps in tandem with building the new ones so that we always had access to the upper quarters of our small domain, and thence my path to the allotment. Hats off to you, sir!

Here are views of the work as it proceeded.

A wintery before:

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During the synchronised step demolition and rebuilding (pretty good work for a retired plant pathologist):

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After – a bit heavy on the limestone perhaps, but we had it on site, which is always a bonus when you live on a road where deliveries can be tricky:

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Most of the clay spoil and erstwhile builders’ rubble that had been hidden behind the steps and in the bed was barrowed round the front of the house and tipped into a Hippo Bag. This natty item is sent through the post in return for some loot. You fill it with 1.5 tonnes of stuff, and then a truck comes and cranes it away. Ideal for people who live on a busy main road, and have no room for a big skip. We had several of these handy mega bags.

Meanwhile up at the allotment I was dismantling a forty-year old allotmenteers’ spoil heap the size of Everest, and using the substance, which only vaguely resembled compost, to make new raised beds and terraces on my polytunnel plot.  I shifted probably sixty barrow loads, and all with the aim of creating (ultimately) a NO DIG gardening system. I know this may sound mad.

The year before I had started clearing the plot by slicing off the neglected, weed-choked surface and piling the turves into pallet bins in the hopes that one day they would decompose into something usable. This was in no way compatible with the principles of NO DIG, but was my quick and dirty method of checking the buttercup, couch grass, and dandelion infestation. After learning the error of my ways early last spring, I gave it up for covering the remaining uncleared ground in layers of cardboard, and tipping a good six inches of spoil heap soil on the top. He Who Builds Walls and Steps then knocked up a few raised beds. (Those of you who come here often will know all this.)

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This year I find that ants have been busy in the horrid heap of weedy turves, and the ensuing soil is usable, so am now repatriating it to the areas whence I cleared it two years earlier. So good on the ants, but more earth moving required.

Meanwhile, the notions of NO DIG, also require the seasonal application of deep layers of compost to the surface of all beds. The only problem with this is making enough compost. You need tons and tons. However, last autumn I made an effort and amassed material in bins and heaps all over my two plots – wherever there was space in fact. And now these need digging out, or at least turning.

NO DIG, it seems, does not mean the end of wielding forks and spades – not by a long chalk. So there we have it – ‘my days’ career’ as a young Kenyan farm wife once described to me her life of endlessly hauling things about.

And back on the home front  this year we have already dug up the front lawn and replanted the bank beside the road. And we have dug up the back lawn and moved more soil so He Who Builds can now branch out into shed construction, though we did at least have two strong young men come and lay the paved concrete slab from which said edifice will arise. I am told it will have a curved roof.

The arrival of the shed will next dictate the remodelling of the back garden flower beds. All of which makes  me feel as if my  life is founded on shifting ground; the strata beneath my feet in perpetual motion and always needing to be somewhere else, and in some other shape. Perhaps one day all the earth in my vicinity will be in the places where we actually want it – no more moving required. Then perhaps I can give up the fraudulent writer posture and finish off a book or two; return to mental heaving and lugging, re-shaping and visualising, create the content and structure exactly as I want it – and all this without heft of spade or putting on my wellies. Perhaps…

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Much Wenlock’s Jo Cox Great Get Together Picnic

Yesterday. The perfect summer’s day. And here are the people of Much Wenlock gathered on the Church Green in a Great Get Together picnic, organised by the local community group Building Bridges Not Walls. It was of course only one of the  120,000 events being held this weekend across Great Britain to celebrate the life of Jo Cox, the vivacious young Labour MP for Batley and Spen, who stood for community, togetherness, tolerance and diversity, and who was tragically murdered last year.

So we came together to make a stand against those who would divide us, and we did it with poetry, Turkish dancing, song, and soothing tabla rhythms. Swallows and swifts swooped overhead. The churchyard willow provided ample shade and dappled light. Assorted dogs came along too. Children clamoured to have their faces painted, and the place hummed with convivial chatter and good fellowship.  And somewhere amongst it all there was a BBC film crew making a programme about life in a rural parish, featuring our Rector, Reverend Matthew Stafford.

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Meanwhile providing some of the entertainment were:

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Tarlochen on tabla, Ian on guitar and vocals: and a fine happenstance partnership it turned out to be with an ace version of Eleanor Rigby.

Then there was Wenlock’s Turkish Dance Group ‘Belly Up’:

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And local poet, Paul Francis (in the hat), paid a heartfelt tribute in the Ballad of Jo Cox:

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And young Jenny from the Sixth Form College sang to us:

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Local groups also had their stalls – the Samaritans, Rojo Rojo Orphanage in Kenya, the Twinning Group, Cuan House Wildlife Rescue; there was tea and cakes in the Priory Hall…

And then, after a few hours peacefully spent together, everyone went home with smiles on their faces. A fine time was had by all, and so a big ‘well done’ to the organisers. But for the final flourish here is Graham on the path home, showing off his Maldives fish shirt. It had proved a great hit among the picnickers, including the Rector. He told us he had a wedding coming up, and the bride had forbidden him to wear his usual gloomy clerical gear. He thought Graham’s shirt was just the job, and how much did he want for it:

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Still, you can’t please everyone and the Highland Cattle just over the fence were not  impressed.  Much too fishy, they said,  before heading off to the furthest corner of the field:

And now for the slide show:

 

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Can You Have Too Many Strawberries? [Six Word Saturday]

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Up at the allotment the strawberries are cropping like crazy. Two weeks in (and despite having only a new, and quite small bed) we are a bit overwhelmed. We’ve already been sharing big bowls full with the neighbours. Fortunately said neighbours say they are more than happy to relieve us of the ‘problem’. But I can see that jam making might have to happen next, although today it’s far too hot to even contemplate standing over a pan of hot bubbling fruit. Maybe strawberry ice cream then. Now that’s more like it. I can stand over my  little ice cream maker, and chill while all is creamily churning. Aaah…

 

Six Word Saturday

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