Friday, 25 July 2008

Brownsea Island and the Merchant of Venice

Week 31 – Friday, 25th July 2008

Well the weather turned out lovely for Wednesday evening for our trip to Brownsea Island and the play of “Merchant of Venice”. The trip over on the ferry was lovely as they did a bit of a tour of Poole harbour and its surrounds. Once there, everyone sprawled out on the grass with their picnic baskets whilst the geese, peacock and chickens prowled the parameters for any titbits.

I only got a slight glimpse of one red squirrel’s tail as it scurried up a tree, but the main impression that I got was that they were definitely much smaller than the grey ones. There was also a lovely video showing at the hide about them. I can now understand why so many people call the common garden grey ones “tree rats” – what a pity that the poor little red ones are almost now existent around the UK.

The show itself was lovely and the costumes were exquisite. At times the sound was not as good as it could have been when the actors were faced away from us. All in all it turned out to be a lovely night out albeit that I only got home past 12pm! The moon on the way back to Poole harbour was wonderful, looking like a big, yellow slice of leftover cheese. I took pictures but will download them this week-end and see if any of them actually captured it properly.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Baby its hot out there

Week 31 – Wednesday, 23rd July 2008

The hot weather is holding well and it looks like it will last until the week-end at least. I am planning on having a lottie party on Saturday and Sunday and have invited everyone along to get the weeds under control. Ron has said that he will barbeque some sausages and hamburger patties for anyone who turns up. The lottie has really had to take a back step with everything going on lately. But I am sure that by the end of the week-end it will be beaten back into submission. I also need to clear out the old pea bushes and their frames and get the rest of the leeks in for those lovely winter soups.

Although the hubbard squash has been attempting to take over the lottie for some time now – the little fruits seem to start growing and then become yellow and drop off. I have even hand pollinated two of them so that I could keep seed this year and they are also not looking that great. This time last year I already had a couple of decent size ones. I so wanted to enter one into the Lottie Show on 9th August, but it does not seem that I will be able to.

My Peacevine tomatoes are however doing very well and although very green at the moment, are lovely sizes. Maybe they will ripen in time for me to enter some into the show. I have been very impressed with these heirloom tomatoes and got them from my HSL swop this year. I will definitely be drying some seeds and distributing them far and wide to keep this heirloom alive. Only hope that they taste as good as they look.

This evening I am going to Brownsea Island to see the “Merchant of Venice” with a couple of girls from work. I am really looking forward to it as I have never been to Brownsea Island nor seen the play. I am also really looking forward to seeing live red squirrels and I do love the little grey ones that visit my back garden even though most people call them “grey rats”.

I even managed to remember my binoculars (as we are seated right up at the far back left) so not sure how much I will actually be able to see and hear. At least if I cannot see or hear anything I can wander (with my eyes and binoculars) around the scenery. I also packed my camera and will definitely be taking some lovely photos – so hopefully I can put some lovely photos up. So armed with my raincoat and anti-mosquito I am ready for anything.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Laminating and Painting?

Week 31 - Tuesday, 22nd July 2008

Now that all the family are settled in their own place, Ron and I went to look at some paint and laminate flooring. Everyone tells us how easy laying laminate is, but I am not so sure. I think possibly murder would be a good option once we got started! Why is it that men NEVER read the instructions before they start?? Anyway, we decided that we would do the front entrance and the bathroom which is only about 4 square metres in all and if we get that done easily enough, we will then do the lounge and passage. We also got a lovely Beech floorboarding - so fingers crossed we manage to lay it easily and that it looks half decent.

I have also decided on the paint colours I want to redo the house in, but I think there is little chance that Ron will buy and repaint the whole downstairs before Debbie arrives on 3rd August. So unless Debs gets a huge spurt of power and wants to tackle it I do not see much happening until the end of August – mid September 2008.

Managed to pop down to the lottie and water the greenhouse - just as well as the tomatoes there were wilting it has been so hot. Also picked about another pound of french beans and gave them a good drink of water. I will prepare them and blanch them for the deep freeze. The swiss chard that I transplanted a couple of weeks ago it looking strong and healthy - only hope that they don't start bolting with this heat ad I want them to go thorugh the winter. Also need to transplant another tray of them once I have managed to lift all the potatoes on the week-end.

When I got home Tez and Kirsty had not only mown the lawn, but also run the hoover over the downstairs and cooked Spagbol! I could get use to this kind of treatment.
I made a potato salad for dinner tonight and Tez will spice and pop the chicken into the oven this afternoon for me. It is just too hot for slaving over the stove. Then I have some strawberries and cream for puds! No, not home grown – they have all been eaten and did not even make it to the kitchen. I must admit I bought them from Sainsbury’s on Sunday.

The great move is over....

Week 31 – Sunday, 20th July 2008

The move this week-end went much better than I had expected. We managed to get the keys early on Friday evening and ended up getting quite a bit of cleaning done. The house, despite the owner’s best efforts, was still a bit of a tip. That’s the problem with having tenants in your property. I however managed to get the whole conservatory, walls, floors and all cleaned but the skin on my hands is starting to peel off – I just cannot wear gloves as they aggravate me no end! So it’s my own fault. We cleaned until 23:00 and then called it a day.

We then started at around 09:30 on Saturday morning and did not stop until about 16:00 when I called it a day and went home - I was almost dropping with fatigue. Maureen also came over to help us out and she went through the house like a devil.

We went past on Sunday afternoon for some tea and cookies and they are almost all settled. They still need to find homes for things but the worst is over. But the house is really looking good now. Ella donated a whole lot of her lovely garden pots to them and there is a particularly lovely peach / orange loose leaf, open face dahlia which I am itching to get my hands on some of its bulb for my collection. Absolutely lovely!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Nightjars and Glow-worms

Week 30 – Friday, 18th July 2008

Mom and I went on the Guided Nightjar Walk at Sopley Common – our first ever. Our little intrepid band of 13 turned up with Nigel Brooks leading the motley crew. One thing Mom and I realised at the outset is that we were sorely unprepared. Mom did not bring a rain mac and we brought no insect repellent whatsoever. However the Gods were kind to us and despite a couple of spattering’s of rain, the heavy clouds that had been threatening all day did not open up and teach us a lesson.

It's amazing how many times we have ridden past this spot and never known that the heath lands exist, but I will definitely be coming back. Some of the group pointed out Hawkley tower in the distance and told us that use to a refinery and there is also power station there. The refinery apparently had now been mothballed..

Nigel gave us a bit of a talk advising us that they were starting to fight back the old forestry pines and silver birch that had begun to invade the heath lands and in a couple of years the landscape would be much different. There are a number of heathers growing on the heath lands – we saw apricot and pink varities.

We heard a Woodcock in the distance but did not manage to see it. We saw and heard a couple of Nightjar’s in the distance, but then when we moved higher up on the ridge, one Nightjar actually circled the group of us and then hovered above our heads. Boy it was lovely - a big thanks to Nigel and the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

If you want to see more information on this bird here: On the way down we managed to see 2 glow-worms. I looked the information up and this is a wonderful UK site : Needless to say I slept like a baby.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Guess what's at the top of my Santa List this year?

I am probably deliciously naive in my thinking at this stage It’s the taking responsibility for it that’s firing me. I have just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver which has been a real challenge for me to review my life style choices. Although I do have an allotment and buy my free range eggs from "Ron the Chicken Man" down the allotment road from me - I have always hankered to have chickens of my own. My Dad had them when I was a child - for eggs and table - mostly bantams and some silkies.

I have done some homework and have found a supplier close by who supplies live chicks and poulets @ £8 each (two weeks old). I would therefore not have to have the poor things posted to me. I shudder to think of the state they would arrive in even knowing that they can survive for three days without food.

I would like to have some heirloom breeds (to keep the breeds alive) - and this is where I would like some input from you all. I have chosen the breeds that I think I will be interested in are but any input of experiences would be appreciated:

Chickens for Eggs :

Large :
Sussex / New Hampshire Red / Cochin / Orpington / Scots Grey and Boven Marans (x breed which I believe lay well in the winter months - from the same supplier).

Bantams :
Orpington, Scots Grey, Plymouth Rock
I also like the Faverolles (which originate from France) and are also a good dual bird e.g. table and eggs. I am looking at dual as when the chickens start slowing down on the laying I would possibly look at harvesting them for the table. Sorry if I offend anyone in this thinking but I am trying to be practical. However, the jury is out on that one and I do not know if I would have the guts to actually kill them.

Turkey for Christmas :

The only kind he provides is Norfolk Bronze Turkey - anyone got any other breeds that are heirloom that they have tried and found better? I have already checked with my council and they say I could easily have chickens at home. The one problem I might have is a rooster. I want to get three females and a rooster so that I can start making my own little chickens. I am not sure if I will get large or bantam - can any one advise me on the size of the eggs which is the better option - as I do want the eggs mainly.

My allotment does allows us to keep chickens - but I only have 5 rods with three fruit trees so not much space there. Oh, decisions, decisions!! I am so tempted to jump in with both feet but just know that it is a big responsibility. Ideally I would like to attend a course but the only one I can find around these parts is Hugh Fernley W and he's expensive and a bit far away! Anyone know of something closer to Dorset/Hampshire that run decent courses?

I have seen a wonderful chicken house - see the picture above - (,43759.0.html) or see post at Allotments 4 All posted by IsleworthTW7 - returning to poultry) that I think is the kind that I would be prepared to put my chickens in. I wonder if I would be able to put chickens and a turkey in the same coop?

One guess what's on the top of my Christmas list to Santa this year!! Poor Santa - he almost definitely will not fit down the chimney this year.

Plants for Free

Week 30 – Thursday, 17th July 2008

As it was a leaf day on Tuesday I managed to get the last sowings of coriander, parsley, basil and various lettuces done. Also split the peace lily that I rescued from Karen’s dustbin and managed to cut it into four new baby plants. Have potted them up and placed them on the greenhouse staging to recover. I will give one or two of the plants to Jacquie and Mom for their new house. I think their downstairs toilet with the sky light will make a good place for one of them.
Also see that the begonia pieces that I rescued off Geraldine’s plant before sending it to plant heaven has started shooting roots and will need to be potted up in the next day or so. The plant stand that I have offered to give Jacquie will need to be sanded down and repainted to make it half decent for them to use in the entrance. Whilst I am doing this I might as well do the hat/scarf stand at the same time!

Our summer baskets have started filling up really nicely now and are looking grand. I was a bit worried when we made them up as we use mostly home sown plants and looked a bit ragged. I only bought in three trays of plants for the fillers. I must say that I was really chuffed with myself when I managed to walk out the nursery with only the three. It was hard – but I did it!!

Hopefully the weather will stay decent so that we can attend that Guided NightJar Tour at Sopley Common this evening at 9pm. I found out about this tour from someone who visited my website. Whilst I was nosing around on Snowgoosey and Tattyanne’s site I picked up the information and did a google and voila – I found a guided tour just around the corner from me. I am really looking forward to it as I do not know a lot about UK birds and wildlife and need to increase my knowledge. I have even got Mother to agree to come along. The guide says that we might even see glow worms. Fingers crossed – and I will really try and take along my camera and get some shots if I can. Mmmhh!! now where did I put my binoculars??

Weeds 1 - Me Nil!

Week 30 – Tuesday, 15th July 2008

Popped down to the lottie with Mom to water the greenhouse – the Peacevine and Brandywine tomatoes are doing very well and have very well formed, big fruits – still green but I can almost taste them! Got a couple more Sungold tomatoes off the bush – yummy! One of the Red Brandywine has started ripening so should be ready by the end of the week when I visit again. The chilli plants are not doing well this year and I have suffered loads of slug damage. None of the aubergines (inside or out) have any formed fruit yet but there is a flower or two – so fingers crossed I might even get some fruit this year. The melons have also all been munched by the slugs so I will be taking my last, precious plant down to the lottie on Friday to plant out and spread lots of organic slug pellets about to give it a fighting chance.

I also managed to get all the shallots harvested. It seems a bit early this year but all the plants had died down already and the slugs were starting to move in for the kill. So I pulled a decent harvest and have arranged them on racks in the lottie shed to dry out. I have two types of shallots this year – a small, golden type, which Dave from work gave me (not sure of the variety) - which I will use to make up some pickled onions and another one that I bought from the Potato Day in Whitchurch – also the name escapes me. On looking back on my earlier notes I did not seem to make a note of the name. Tsk! Tsk! I really need to get my labelling skills up to scratch.

The Sturon onions that I planted are not that great and only about 8 decent size. The rest seem small and undeveloped so I have decided to leave the smaller ones in for the time being and harvest later just in case they put on a final growth spurt. Their leaves are still green so fingers crossed!

The sweet pea wigwam is still flowering its socks off and for the last 6 weeks we have been picking large bunches of flowers at least twice a week. I will start slowing down by the end of August to allow the plant to set seed for next year. The colours and smell have really been heavenly and I really must try and remember to take my camera down so that I can post some pictures here.

When I went to feed the French beans, to my amazement I found that there were actually about a pound of beans once picked. I had not really seen any major flower action there and the plants do not seem as strong as last year but the beans lower down seem to have made it. I gave all the beans a good feed of seaweed and made a note the bean frame and its environs need a major weeding. I also harvested some lovely beetroot and once home managed to pickle 3 pounds of beetroot and blanched the French beans for the freezer. Just enough to either add to a stew or serve as a vegetable side dish. I am however sure that I will be adding to them shortly.

The Yellow Mange Tout that I planted also had a very slow start but is now really going wild. I think that I will stop harvesting now and allow the plant to set seed so that I have enough for next year.

As I have not been down to the lottie that often or for long periods I am afraid that the weeds are winning 1 – 0 at the moment. We will be moving Mom and Jacquie this week-end so do not think that I will manage a visit to the lottie as well. Will rally the troops together and set a definite date for the weekend of 26th/27th July to wage war on the weeds and whip the lottie back into shape. All the potatoes will also need lifting and the sweet potatoes need to be put in as well.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Review your Life - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Week 30 – Sunday, 13th July 2008

Did not get too much done today and seemed really flat – all I managed was to get to church, have lunch and then went and laid on the bed to finish reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver which I have really enjoyed. I ended up having an afternoon siesta.

The book is really thought provoking and challenged me to review how I can change things about my choices, to think about the way I live and shop which can make a small difference to the world. A lot of the statistics in the book are really scary. I would really love to get my hands on a similar book but with UK stats and historical data. Must have a good look at the library next time I am in there.

There are also some lovely recipes in the book which I have copied off her website and will definitely be giving them a try - especially the bottled tomato sauce and antipasto. Her bits on her turkey adventures is really very funny and I must admit, I have started itching to try and get a turkey - or two - to raise for our Christmas dinner - especially since last year when our local butcher wanted to charge me £35 for a 4kg turkey. A bit pricey I think. So needless to say we had no turkey! I have started doing my homework and have even found a local poultry farm which sells rare breed chickens and turkeys (2 weeks old) for £8 each. So I have decided that when I get my second allotment, I will definitely think of getting some chickens for eggs and turkeys of my own. I have thought about the slaughtering part of the turkey but "I'll think about that tomorrow".

Holly Flops and Beheaded Sunflowers

Week 29 - Saturday, 12th July 2008

Got stuck into the garden after finishing off the oven. Its kind of funny how you get this lovely sanctimonious feeling in the pit of your stomach when you have managed to do something that you have been putting off for months done!

I also gave the kitchen a good once over and hopefully got rid of that irritating little spider who insists on spinning webs in the corners of the kitchen window. I know that I love nature but the little blighter gives away the fact that I have not dusted so he really is not playing the game.

I managed to get some lovely strong 6 inch bamboo canes and got all the Holly Flops standing straight-ish and tied to within an inch of their lives. A couple of them have started looking a bit scraggly but I do not have the heart to cut them down yet. Planted out the Echinacea into the flower border where the Dicentra is starting to die down. I will also need to cut her back but am holding off until the last minute. Hopefully by then the Echincea will be giving a show that will ensure that I do not miss her. I cannot believe that from that small little pot I bought at Kingston Lacey at the first garden show I went to she has now become this huge shrub that dominates the bed from early Spring until mid Summer. She was my first plant I ever bought in the UK!

Wollygog – the black Sunflower that Byron has been nursing since tiny, which he planted himself has unfortunately lost his head in the last wind storm we had. The flower is already formed so I might still be able to save some seed from him so that Byron can try again next year. Sunnyboy, the yellow sunflower - is still standing strong and tall and hopefully will live to flower. They have both topped 6 foot and counting.

I finally managed to get the lavender plants which I grew from seed this spring out into the front garden beds. I really want to try and get these two long beds to be almost all perennial and low maintenance. I already have geraniums, grandmother’s bonnet and Flemish poppies who all self seed themselves and come up every year. Also planted out the last of the poppy seeds that I received from the CGS seed swap and despite them germinating late hope they might give us a show for late Summer and self seed for next year.

Dirty Ovens and Moods

Week 29 – Friday, 11th July 2008

I had been in a strange mood all day and when I got home got stuck into the oven. Now I am a strange person – when I am agitated or upset about something I start cleaning! Which in itself is not a bad thing mind you? The stove was long overdue a good cleaning and one of my most hated jobs – that and cleaning out the deep freeze and fridges.

I used this new oven cleaner that Ella recommended called “Ovenpride” which is really good. The one thing that I will not repeat again is leaving the stuff smeared on the oven overnight. Although it did clean well I think that next time I will wipe everything off the stove after four hours. The oven racks and stuff though I will definitely leave in the bag overnight. The one problem I had was that the bag leaked and the next morning the cleaner had leaked all over the paving outside. The cleaning seemed to have done the trick and I was in a much better mood afterwards. Even managed to get to watch Gardeners World in between.

Slow Season

Week 29 – Thursday, 10th July 2008

Popped down to the lottie and dropped all the composting material. The lottie is looking really windswept and I feel really bad that I have not been able to come down as often as I would like but life seems to be so hectic at the moment. There never seems to be a spare minute to myself to slip away and get stuff done.
The tomatoes in the greenhouse on the lottie are looking really good with lovely tomatoes lower down the bush. I cannot wait until I can sink my teeth into a lovely ripe tomato. I must admit that the Peacevine tomato that I got in my HDRA seed swap this year is really impressing me. The tomatoes are a bit heart shaped and the most prolific plants this year really – only hope that it tastes as good as it looks. The Yellow Brandywine (in the house greenhouse), is not doing too well, but might still pick up later in the season. The Red Brandywine is doing OK and the others are slow but doing well. The only home grown tomato I have had to date is the Sungold’s. They are lovely but not flowering as much as last year – not sure if this is because I have been nipping out all the side shoots – maybe I should have left them all to their own devices – I did last year and got some lovely fruits.

The cucumbers in both greenhouses are really not doing well this year and despite me putting down slug pellets, they seem to be getting struggling. They really seems to be struggling this year and the plant at home has only tiny little fruits on but the vine does not seem to want to take off – normally this time of the year it is twirling its way around the greenhouse in a bid for freedom.

This however seems to be a national problem as I was listening to Terry Walton on BBC 2 last Friday and he says their stuff all seems to be a couple of week behind that of last year – so maybe it will pick up.

Welsh Poppies and Granny

Week 29 – Sunday 6th July 2008

Managed to get into the garden for a while and try and beat the bush back into submission. The Holly hocks have now been nicknamed the “Holly Flops” as the wind has really battered them down this year. Surprisingly enough the Delphiniums have stood up to it and for the first time this year I have some half decent Delphiniums. Will try and save some seed this year for next spring. The Delphinium Requiem that I got from Di really do live up to them being slug resistant.

The Golden Hops on the arbour is now starting to look really tatty and not its best, but is still trying to take over the garden. The Welsh poppies (meconopsis) which self seeded from last year have really put on a good show this year and they came up just in time to hide the ugly daffodil leaves which were not yet dead. They also gave some lovely shade to the hellebore babies that I have planted out into that bed with the snowdrops. Hopefully next year I will have a lovely show all year round. I put in about 8 pots of snow drops that I got from Kingston Lacey so hopefully they will be happy and start bulking up and giving off a good show.

Isn’t if funny how plants seem to do so much better than the ones you molly coddle! I will definitely try and send some seed to the CGS seed swap this year as they are a really lovely poppy. I always think of Granny Kay when I look at them.

Broken Ribs and no butterflies?

Week 28 – Saturday, 5th July 2008

Got down to the lottie for two hours and managed to get a couple of odd jobs done. Also ended up picking a huge bunch of sweet peas for Mom. The perfume of them is really quite breathtaking. I am a bit disappointed with the Cupani that I have in a container on the back veranda though as I have had very little flowers off them and the scent is minimal. I was led to believe that they were the best smelling of them all and the original brought over from Italy by the monks! Oh well, will just keep feeding them and hoping for the best.

The dahlia’s and cosmos bed is looking really beautiful and we should have loads of vases of flowers right until the Autumn. The gladiolas have come up next to the shed – but no flowers yet! First time I am growing these so not sure when and how they flower. They are all flopping around a bit so will have to make a plan when I am next on the lottie and have time.

The pumpkins and gem squash plants are also looking very healthy but only have lots of leaves and no fruit that seems to be maturing. Not sure if it is just because there is not much bee action! The flower opens starts forming, then turns yellow and rots off!! I tried fertilizing two Hubbard Squash fruits and have marked the potential fruit so that I can start saving my own seed as this variety was from seed that I brought back from South Africa and will also need to save some of my corn this year. Hopefully it will take – fingers crossed! I harvested one zucchini about 15cms long and 10cm wide – the first of my ingredients for chutney. I think I feel a chutney making session coming on.

In the afternoon we went and helped Steve and Helen get their garden whipped into shape – it was in an appauling state and since Mom and Jacquie are taking over the house – we did have a vested interest. The garden was full of dead and overgrown trees and shrubs but after a couple of hours – several bags of rubbish later and a HUGE pile in the centre of the garden that needed to be carted off to the tip it was looking much better. That was the agreement – we came and helped but Steve had to dispose of all the rubbish. This backfired slightly as later in the evening he phoned asking Ron to come and assist and pull the trailer he had managed to loan to the tip – so Ron ended up dumping the stuff after all. Jacquie was a real trooper and was in there next to me despite her having broken ribs.

Well, it’s a long story – the broken ribs! At Rosemary’s beach party the kids were all piling on to one another so what does Jacquie do – jumps on the top of them (4 high now) – then Ron gets it into his bonnet to jump on top of the whole pile. Needless to say the pile came crashing down and he and Jacquie fell to ground quite hard. Jacquie could not move for about ten minutes and seemed to have lost her breath but she says that she definitely heard something pop! I have been watching her closely in case she has done some serious damage to anything so that I can shoot her off to A&E.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Garlic, garlic, every where...

Week 27, Saturday, 28th June 2008

Managed to get down to the lottie for the morning and dropped off all the composting stuff. Managed to catch up with “Ron the chicken man” and pay him for the last two months! I was getting worried that he was sick and tried to have a look at his chicken coops to see if all was in order. Turns out we were just missing each other all the time and he thought I was ill.

Anyway I managed to harvest all the garlic – the bulbs were a bit on the small side but a good harvest with almost 100% success. I have taken them home to dry in the shed and will try my hand at garlic plaiting soon. I cannot see any difference at the moment between the bought white garlic from the French pink garlic (bought at last years French market), which I saved and planted, maybe when they are dry and cleaned up a bit the difference will become clear.

My elephant garlic was wonderful – will try and remember to take a picture for the blog. From 1 bulb we bought for a quid at the last potato festival I harvested a huge bulb plus about a dozen little bulbils around it. So I have pulled off the babies and will store them for next years harvest.

Turned the now empty ground over, added pelleted chicken manure and then put in a row of beetroot seed and two rows of Swiss Chard seedlings that have been waiting in the wings for open ground. Hopefully this position (which is shaded by the Cardoon) will keep the plants cool and help with bolting.

Picked a huge bunch of sweet peas again – a lot more pink and peach colours coming out now but the stems seem to be getting shorter the higher up they get? Not sure why.

The afternoon was booked for Rosemary’s 13th Birthday Party on the beach at Hengistbury Head. Jacquie did hamburgers which were lovely and the kids all enjoyed building their own. I was a bit dubious about taking the barbecue down as there were huge signs “£500 spot fines” but the guys were adamant and sneaked it on. The weather was OK but the wind was really mean and had us skulking behind some rocks which acted as a buffer.