Presents Up At The Allotment

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Yesterday’s post about goings on in and around the allotment and the fact our planet is now totally polluted by Roundup was a drearily disturbing topic. Today the allotment came up with floral fireworks, and a jug full of asters. Presents!

At lunchtime as I was on the plot, watering my peas and beetroot, fellow allotmenteer Siegfried came by. He was pushing a wheelbarrow full of produce – courgettes, runner beans, and a ton of red currants. I said he looked like a mobile vegetable stall. He told me it was destined for tomorrow’s Country Market – the Thursday morning local produce stall under Much Wenlock’s Corn Exchange.

Then he said would I please do him a favour, and go to his plot and pick as many asters as I wanted  He said he had already picked masses for the market, but was afraid the rest would go to waste. He told me not to forget.

A little later I saw him go by my polytunnel. His arms  were filled with sheaves of asters. What a wonderful sight – Siegfried in bloom, and I didn’t have my camera. And so on my way home I stopped for a greedy harvesting in the aster plot. And now I’m passing on Siegfried’s gift. All of which is to say, you meet some nice folk up at the allotment.

False Horizons On The Way To The Allotment: A Not So Bucolic Picture?

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I usually have a camera with me when I go gardening. The field path from our house to the allotment provides many diversions; opportunities to stand and stare. And also there’s often something to snap around my plot. I took this photo just over a week ago. Even then the wheat looked more than ready to harvest. But it was infested with wild oats, hence the feathery ‘horizon’ seen here above the wheat.

Earlier this week,  while I was picking runner beans, I heard the roar of an approaching tractor, and looked up to see the farmer on his mega vehicle, massive spraying rig in action. He was dosing the fields behind and beside the allotment.

Then the breeze got up.

“Roundup,” muttered my allotment neighbour crossly, he who also happens to be an agricultural consultant of many years standing. “Just look how it’s drifting.” It was definitely coming our way. We don’t use weed killer so we had a mutual humph. What else could we do?

Roundup is the most widely sold weed killer in the world. It’s  main active ingredient is glyphosate, but it is also combined with a number of apparently inert adjuvants. These are substances that are added to accelerate,  prolong or enhance the action of the main ingredient.  Adjuvants are also added to vaccines for similar reasons, but that’s another story.

Here’s what Britain’s Soil Association has to say about Montsanto’s glyphosate. If you follow this link, and feel so minded, you can find out more and sign the petition to get it banned. And just to spur you on:

…glyphosate can follow the grain into our food. Tests by the Defra* Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) found that almost two thirds of wholemeal bread sampled contained glyphosate.

* Defra is the UK Government Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

As to actual health risk, the World Health Organisation seems to be at odds with itself as to whether glyphosate is more of danger through external exposure or as residues in our food. Even so, I find it alarming that according to The Guardian, urine samples taken from 48 Members of the European Parliament showed that

all had glyphosate traces in their bodies, with the average concentration being 1.7 micrograms a litre, 17 times above the limit for drinking water.

But whatever its full effects prove to be, I’m with the The Green Party’s MEP for the south-west of England when she says:

With ongoing controversy over the health risks of glyphosate, we can be quite sure it has no place in the human body. We hold concerns for its impact on biodiversity, with evidence of glyphosate having detrimental impacts on the honey bee, monarch butterfly, skylark and earthworm populations, and posing a threat to the quality of our soil.

Molly Scott Cato MEP

Well why would I, or anyone want to eat weed killer?

Five Minutes In The Polytunnel ~ Regular Random

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As ever, I have probably overdone things in the polytunnel, been too liberal with the seaweed extract. On the other hand the half dozen Tuscan kale plants have been producing succulent leaves since the winter. Almost undamaged too. I’m wondering how long they will keep going. Forever? I’m also pleased to find ladybirds in there, although the one featured below seems to have missed the aphid on the aubergine leaf. Maybe it’s trying to lull it into a sense of false security.IMG_5272

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Regular Random Please visit Desley Jane for more Five Minute Photo Shoots

5 Minutes With An Artichoke And A Red-Tailed Bumblebee ~ Regular Random

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Frequently Flying Scientist, Desley Jane, is a very talented photographer. Macro mode is a particular speciality, and especially when it comes to making delicious little cakes impossibly tempting. This week she has quite a different subject for her ‘Regular Random’ slot. So please visit her and join in the challenge. These are the rules:

  • choose a subject or a scene
  • spend five minutes photographing it – no more!
  • try to see it from many angles, look through something at it, change the light that’s hitting it
  • have fun!
  • tag your post #regularrandom and ping back to this post

My five minutes was devoted to some allotment artichokes. The sun was full on, the artichoke flower rather too tall, and the wind kept gusting, so the outcome is definitely random. Nice performance by the pollen dusted bumblebee though.

Fading Flowers In All Their Glory

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I never used to like dahlias. As a small child I soon learned they harboured earwigs, the sudden sighting of which still sparks pangs of revulsion.  But this winter I relented – over the dahlias that is.

For the past few years I had cast envious looks over the fire-coloured rows grown by fellow allotmenteers. Not only did they yield lots of cutting flowers all summer long, but their presence brightened up the allotment for everyone working there.

But next I would think of earwigs, and the slugs that attack leaves and flowers, and the fact you have to lift the tubers in autumn and store them in frost-free conditions. It all seemed too much of a faff.

And then in the dark days of mid-winter, when gardeners are at their most susceptible to images of lush and succulent growth – whether floral or vegetable,  I was ambushed by Sarah Raven’s plant catalogue, a little publication that takes horticultural lust to a whole new level. So be warned. Plant lovers open the link at their own risk.

Ms Raven, a one-time medical doctor, now exercises her life-enhancing inclinations by sharing her growing-cooking-flower-arranging aesthetic in print, on screen and on home-run courses. One of her cunning knacks sales-wise is to group the plants in striking or subtle colour-ways. It works. You want them all.

And so it was, I overcame my dahlia resistance, and ordered a few tubers, starting fairly modestly, just to see how we would get along together.

They arrived in January,  in perfect condition and with full growing instructions, which I duly followed. For one thing I realised I could make good use of the winter-depleted polytunnel to start the plants off. I also bought a packet of the Sarah Raven dark cosmos seed collection, and I am pleased to say that both cosmos and dahlias are now flowering vigorously outside my polytunnel.

They look so bright and cheery there I am presently rather stingy about cutting them. But when I do, I’m pleased to find I enjoy them twice – both alive and dying when they take on a new kind of beauty.

So in my own Fading Flower Collection we have cosmos Dazzler (top), dahlia Dark Butterfly (bottom left), and dahlia Ripples (bottom right).

But to show you how at least one of them started out, here’s Dark Butterfly in full flight up at the allotment – pleasing lots of small insects, but thankfully earwig free. They, the little ratbag, pincering varmints, have been chewing my cauliflowers instead. It’s the gardener’s way of course: win some; lose some, and then, just now and then, when all goes to plan:  win, win, and WIN!

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Cee’s Flower of the Day  Please visit Cee’s blog. Another great spot for plant lovers.

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

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

#SixWordSaturday  #6WS

The Big Digger Driver And The Kindness Of Strangers

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I think I’ve mentioned that here in Much Wenlock we’re in the throes of having a couple of attenuation ponds dug above the town – this in a bid to reduce flood risk.  We are in what the Environment Agency calls a ‘Rapid Response Catchment Area’. This means that if a severe storm hits our part of Wenlock Edge, then we have about twenty minutes warning before a flash flood reaches the town. There are other factors involved too. Flash flooding is more likely if the ground is already sodden from periods of prolonged rainfall. Or if it is frozen hard.

Our last bad flood was in the summer of 2007 when over fifty homes were affected. Due to the steepness of our catchment, any flood is usually quick to leave, but even so, it can cause a lot of damage.

One of the attenuation ponds, currently nearing completion, is in the top corner of Townsend Meadow behind our house. Earlier in the year, and in preparation for the excavation work, a number of small trees were felled and shredded into heaps around the pond perimeter. Yippee, I thought on discovering them by the path on the long way round to the allotment. More chippings for paths and weed suppression.

I duly went to collect a few bags full, but it was harder work than I expected. For one thing there is quite a haul up the path from the pond, and then once at the top of the hill and into the wood, another haul down the field boundary to the allotment.

Meanwhile, my chippings collecting habit had not gone unnoticed. Late one afternoon in April, and after the working day was over, I was plodding up the path with a full bag when a truck pulled up on the field track that the construction crew were using. It was the digger driver in the photo. A very Welsh digger driver. At first I didn’t quite grasp what he was saying. I thought he’d come to tell me off. But that wasn’t it.

When I explained what I was doing and where I was going with the chippings, he said it would be no problem for him to move the chippings piles to the top of the hill. In fact I think he would have delivered them to the allotment if there had been suitable access. He drove off down the track, and I carried on with my bag, and rather forgot about the digger man.

Sometime later (I was pottering around in my polytunnel) fellow allotmenteer, Dave, came to tell me that he had  been surprisingly hallooed from the neighbouring field by a very Welsh man who was going on about chippings and some woman he’d met on the path. After some thought, Dave had concluded I was the woman in question, and so we went up the field to investigate, and there at the top of the track was a huge pile of wood chips – enough for all my paths, and more to compost over the winter. There was no sign of the digger man. I expect he’d gone home for his tea, but Dave helped me fill my big blue IKEA bags and carry them back to the plot.

So lucky me! Two very kind men in one day. And a nice new path between the polytunnel raised beds, which incidentally were made by a third kind man who lives in my house.

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Black & White Sunday: After and Before    This week Paula asks us to give a colour shot a monochrome edit.

Solstice Sky And A Fine Quotation To Match

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I dashed up to the allotment this afternoon while it was still fine. The weather forecast is promising us storms tomorrow so I thought I’d better get the Christmas parsnips dug up fast, and the Brussels sprouts and red cabbage gathered in.  The ground was very water-logged and the plots looked dreary, and naturally there were no other mad gardeners around but me. But as the sun went down, just a fraction later after the shortest day, the light over the town was magical.

These photos were taken with lots of zoom, and in the next one the sky looks to be on fire.

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All of which reminded me of an Albert Camus quote which I read on a writing blog earlier this week. It was so hope-inducing I thought I’d pass it on at the first opportunity. It’s especially apt for all you creative people out there, which would be every man Jack and Jill of you. More power to your making in 2017:

 In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

Albert Camus

December Apples And Other News From The Allotment

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These days it is usually dusk as I leave the allotment.  I go there late afternoon to pick kale, carrots and parsnips. It has been too wet underfoot to do much work (our soil turns to glue in winter rain) but I have been making paths between the raised beds and behind the polytunnel. For the permanent paths I have laid membrane, for others whose location I may change, I’ve put down recycled cardboard. Then I’ve been covering both with wood chippings.

These last I am currently scavenging from a big heap left by the council beside the footpath not far from the allotment. It means a longer walk from the house. Instead of going south along the field path, I strike out west up the Sytche, where I fill two bags from the heap and then slither my way along a hedgerow track and into the wood before I can turn east and drop down on to the allotment. All a bit daft I know, but you get a fine view of the town along the way.

Back in the summer I was gathering chippings from the Linden Field and using them in a no-dig experiment. When I took over the polytunnel a couple of years ago, I also acquired half a plot that had been neglected for several seasons. Some of it I cleared by digging until I saw the error of my ways. The rest I divided into terraces using old planks, and then  instead of hacking at the pernicious weeds (dandelion, buttercup, couch grass), I buried them in cardboard and several inches of chippings.

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This is not fool-proof. You can’t keep a good weed down. And I’ve had to pull up a few young dandelions since, but they are easier to get a grip on through the chippings.

Eventually, when the worms and fungi have done their work, I should be able to plant into this mulch. Thereafter, it will be a matter of adding more layers of compost. AND NO DIGGING.

Now is also the season of leaf gathering. They do take a good year to eighteen months to rot down, though someone told me you could speed up the process by stirring in some grass mowings. The leaves I gathered last year are already breaking down into lovely crumbly loam which I’ll use for seed sowing in the spring. Leaf mould is low in nutrients, but it can be enriched with the addition of shredded comfrey leaves that rot down very quickly.

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I make simple silos out of a rolls of chicken wire, but you can use black bin bags or leaf sacks.

And now I’ve lingered here long enough. The light is going, and it’s time to walk home across the field, the dusk lit by apples like lanterns along the allotment fence.

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