Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Chugging Along

Off on errands shortly - I've run out of seed compost!  (Crisis level - not quite teabags, but at this time of year above bread shortage). 

I've started using Dalefoot compost this year.  One of the local garden centres (two bus rides away as opposed to a train & cab or wait till we hire a van) started stocking it, so having heard good word about it, thought I'd give it a try.  It's made from composted bracken and waste sheep's wool, so no peat, and more consistent ingredients than green waste based composts.  It's got a nice light texture and so far we've had good germination, even though we've used the general purpose version rather than dedicated seed compost.

So yes, I have been getting busy between the rain & snow with the seed sowing.  We've even started cutting the first batch of salad leaves (micro greens, to be precise, but still a joy to have some fresh greenery from the garden), and the Ramsons are getting into full leaf, so there have been assorted garlic tinged dishes to liven up breakfasts of late.  My pots of herb are springing back to life, so there will be fresh mint & oregano for use in the kitchen pretty soon.  The salad burnet is doing really well, so I'm starting to use that for a slightly bitter cucumber taste.  I fear that despite all my efforts the lemon verbena plants didn't make it, so I'll be on the lookout for replacements in the next month or so.

As usual, I've been using the Planting By The Moon book as a guide as to what to sow when.  Not in terms of adhering to biodynamic practices (too rigid, too much hassle for my brain), but more as a way of keeping some sort of order.  For instance, as yesterday was a "flower" day, I got more summer flowering bulbs, corms & tubers started (freesias, gladioli & dahlias), to be planted out at the allotment once the weather is closer to dry and warm.  Also sowed plenty of flower seed.  Some to go with the bulbs & so forth in a cutting garden patch, others to be dotted around the vegetable beds to attract beneficial insects & repel others.  Tomorrow is a "leaf" day, so once I have stuff to fill the trays, I'll get the next batch of salads started, then over the weekend "fruits", such as peas, beans and the last batch of tomatoes can be dealt with.  If we can work out a way of moving them without the expense of a hire van, some of my fruit tree purchases may get planted at the allotment too.

All but a couple of trays of onions, garlic & shallots we started in modules have been planted out at the allotment, as have first and second early potatoes.  The rhubarb is sprouting, so in a few weeks we can start eating that (along with some of the sweet cicely which is looking particularly good among my herb pots.

I lost so much time after my fall last year that, since I started getting mobile again late last September, I've determined to make full use of my time to garden.  Of course this year Spring has been slow to start, so I've been able to pace myself.  But there is still a inclination to make use of every shaft of sunlight.

I just have to remember when we have another cold or rainy spell and I can't get outside for a few days (still using a picnic table on the deck as a potting bench - must get a new shed this year), or the ground is too sodden to work, that even if a bit late in sowing or planting out, the plants will catch up.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Cabin Fever - Slight Return

Well, this has been the coldest Winter for some years here on the northern reaches of London.

We're in the midst of our third bout of snow, with more due later today.

Good thing I got busy with seed sowing ahead of time.  I have plenty of trays safely tucked under cover in my mini greenhouses, plus trays & pots of onions, garlic & shallots stashed outside to allow the cols snap to kick start them into growth before planting them out at the allotment as soon as the soil is ready to take them.

The cold and wet has meant it is slow going at the allotment, but as we are switching to no-dig, it should get easier.  Even so, Howard has been busy making a new set of compost bins (as per an old Lawrence Hills book I found), and every time a batch of wood chip arrives has been layer down some as paths between the beds, which makes everything look neater, as well as easier to walk on.

I finally got out of the house without using my walking stick as an aid.  Was tiring, but I felt able to handle things OK.  I think having both hands free was a great help.  Now the cold is back it feels a bit sore, and I shan't risk the ice for fear of tipping over.

Instead, I shall take advantage of this enforced indoors time to catch up on the Civilisations TV series, and sketch out planting plans for the fruit beds.  Spring is just a matter of days away, and the sap is well & truly rising!

Monday, 22 January 2018

Oops! No Plums!

Late last year, I took the decision to cash in my smallest workplace pension.  Partly to take some pressure off Howard in terms of household finances, but also as there were some big purchases I needed to make if I planned to put more effort into growing our food.

One of the things on my list was more fruit trees.  We'd lost a couple of pear trees then the allotment flooded a few years ago, and having rethought the layout last year while I was laid up unable to actually do any gardening, I had a section of the plot to dedicate to fruit growing.

So in the Autumn I took advantage of an offer Deacons nursery had for half price bare root top fruit trees, and ordered assorted apples, pears and other fruit trees.

The order arrived late last week, but not having transport to get to the allotment this weekend, we had to heel them in until we can plant them in the new fruit area in the back garden.  Saturday it rained all day, so much thumb twiddling took place.  Finally Sunday morning dawned damp, but not actually raining.  Unfortunately, by the time we were both ready & got outside to the garden, it was raining lightly, but we were determined to get the job done - opening the packages, bagging up the straw used to protect the trees, sorting through the trees, then planting them,  in batches of 5 or so, temporarily in spent compost in the potato planting bags, so they would be easy to transport to the allotment next time we hire a van.

Of course in the time it took to get all this done, the temperature dropped further, and the rain turned to sleet, then to snow.  But it was a job that needed completing, didn't require walking on soil or disturbing it in any other way, so we persevered.  As the snow once again morphed into sleet and then rain, the job was completed, and the trees were neatly placed in a sheltered but light patch.  I then ticked them off against my order - a selection of eating apples to crop & keep from late Summer through to early Spring, cooking apples to crop & store through Autumn & Winter, a small selection of cider apples to experiment with, a couple of pears to replace what we lost to flooding, a peach, a nectarine and a cherry to grow in the sunniest patch of the garden at the house, a damson and a greengage. 

Somehow I had forgotten to get any new plum trees.

Still, having done a scale plan of the fruit area, I reckon there's space for a couple more trees (as well as raspberries, gooseberries & assorted currants), so time to study the lists again.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Where did that year go?

So - my last post was on 5th May - full of optimism for the growing season ahead.

Three days later, I tripped and fell as I was politely stepping out of someone's way.  At the time, I was more worried about bits of gravel embedded in my hand, but the next morning I woke, and was barely able to move without incredible pain. Hospital was certain it was sciatica, gave me an injection and sent me home.  But for the next couple of weeks I was virtually bedbound, progressing to housebound, through to unable to get out & about unaided, and on to my current unsteady on her feet & unable to climb stairs in comfort.

After assorted blood tests, x-rays, & scans, I was told I had deterioration to my lower spine, which was pretty worrying, so I got sent (eventually) to a specialist physiotherapist.  Finally got my first appointment in early December, at which she reviewed the reports & scans, to tell me that there was nothing wrong with my spine - the "deterioration" was just normal wear & tear.  All the weeks being extra careful not to inflict further damage had been pointless.  Guess this is what happens when the scans are farmed out to private companies who want to justify charging the NHS exhorbitant rates.

What I had suffered was muscle and ligament strain, and once the initial inflammation (which caused the original pain) had gone down, my body was tensing up as if expecting another fall.  So my muscles were tighter, hence making it harder to get mobile.

So I'm now on a slow arc to recovery - lots of gentle exercise, much stretching, plenty of walking, as I build up confidence to face the outside world without a walking stick.

Though the stick comes in handy when you want the bus to stop for you.

Friday, 5 May 2017

The Past Calls You

During the spells of inclement weather this past Bank Holiday weekend, I took advantage of the free access to certain records on the Find My Past website.

I've been taking advantage of free access to records weekends on Ancestry since Easter 2015, and have actually built the family tree on that site, but sometimes looking at another website helps verify information, or provides records not available elsewhere.

Now, I've always believed that I'm half Welsh (on my mother's side), and going back three or four generations that is the case.  But so far every branch of that side of the family seems to have arrived in the valleys of South Wales in the 1870's & 80's - when the coal mining boom was in full flow.  When it comes to the origin of my maternal great grandparents, one branch came from the West Midlands, having been chainmakers and nail makers for several generations in Shropshire & Worcestershire.  I've yet to get back prior to the Industrial Revolution with this branch - this is the one that could actually trace back to the right side of the border, I'm told.  My maternal grandfather's mother was born in Devon, but the family moved to the Valleys prior to the 1881 census.  Before that, the generations I've traced were farm labourers in various villages between the Eastern edge  of Exmoor and the western slopes of Somerset's Quantock Hills.

My Welsh Nan's family also arrived in the Valleys some time in the 1870's - from Bristol and the Forest of Dean.  I have managed to trace the Forest of Dean branch of the family back to the 1530's - effectively the start of written records for anyone other than gentry - to Much Marcle, in the heart of Herefordshire cider making country. It's an area of the country I love and know well.  Whenever we go to the Malvern shows, rather than stay near the show ground, we usually stay on the outskirts of Hereford, then explore the area the days either side of the show.  I've always felt comfortable round there, almost "at home".  Now I know why.  This branch of the family also contains what seems to be our only brush with fame.  My great-great grandmother's birth name was Meek, and it appears I share ancestors with the famed record producer Joe Meek.  Cousins several times removed - our lines branch off around the time of the Civil War.

My father's family tree has been a little harder to research.  His mother was 12 when she lost her father in World War I, and seems to have been informally adopted by an uncle, whose name appeared in records of her marriage, and sent me looking in the wrong direction for a while.  Here also I found evidence of the lost inheritance I'd heard talk of as a child. Not a huge amount, but a great great grandfather remarried late in life, and left everything to his second wife.  I've also managed to trace one of my great great grandmother's lines on this side back to 17th Century Essex, and 16th Century Norfolk.

His father's side of the tree has seen me try to break through a few dead ends - one great great great grandfather is listed on parish wedding records as a Mariner on a Victuallery vessel - I guess that means a merchant ship carrying food & drink, though whether that just sailed around Britain, or plied the international waters I don't know.  This past weekend I have found out there are records of him at Trinity House, likely parenateg, a birth date (some 16 years earlier than the wife who appears in my family tree), and what looks like a previous marriage, though as yet no death details for either wife.  Did the first wife join him on board and die overseas?  Was he a bigamist, keeping two marriages going in separate ports?

This side is where I have found the only (so far) illegitimate ancestor - I can only speculate as to whether the man his mother married a few years after his birth was his father.  But I have been able to trace this ancestor's mother's family back from his birthplace of Ware, several generations back to villages just north of the town.  According to census entries, this ancestor was, during his time in Ware (before he married and lived in Uxbridge) a maltster.  I've been through Ware countless times - usually on the way to the plant nursery Hopleys in Much Hadham.  The church is set back slightly from the High Street, and just outside is a statue of man leaning on a large shovel, with a cat at his side.  This statue celebrates the maltmaking industry that thrived in this area two centuries ago.  And those villages?  Well, they're on the road that leads to Much Hadham, and I have passed through them almost as many times as I've been through Ware.  I have always had the urge to stop & explore, and I guess now I realise why.  These places, in countryside I love, are part of my history, and are waiting for me to tread where previous generations tended the fields.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

For those who work from home

A Poem

I must stop drinking tea
It does this thing to me
'cos every time I have a cup
I need to have a pee!

Working on the next verse, which will be about how every time I go to the kitchen to put the kettle on, the cat expects me to make toast, so she can lick the drips of melted butter off the plate.

More soon.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Moment Has Arrived

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, it's dry, and almost warm!

The Equinox is over a week away, but Spring has well and truly sprung, and I'm finally confident enough to sow seeds.

This has been the coldest Winter for a few years.  Whilst there were no days when snow stopped everything, at least a little fell.  We had more heavy frosts than the past couple of years put together.  We had a couple of instances of consecutive heavy frosts, when the ice on the pond stayed solid for a few days in a row.  The downside of this was that I had to eventually fish out a dead frog that was a little over eager to get back under water and stake their spot for the breeding season. Fortunately, other frogs were a little more sensible, and for the past couple of weeks I've seen other frogs in the pond.

My little snowdrop collection has put on a great show, from the delicate Wasp to the big & bumptious Rev.Hailstone, and so many in between.  Once the last flowers have gone over, I'll start dividing and repotting them.  The frost has damaged quite a few pots, so it will be a pretty comprehensive job this year.  This year the double white Hellebore has been the most vigorous of my collection.  At the moment my favourite one, the yellow, is looking a little weedy, so I may have to work on the soil in that patch.

But Spring has arrived, as usual very slowly at first, then suddenly over the past few days my crocuses and daffodils have burst into flower, as have some of the plants in the shade bed apart from Hellebores - the Brunnera Jack Frost is in flower, the dark flowered Scopolia is in bud and colouring up, and the dwarf Celandine plants are leafing up.  On an edible note, I picked my first batch of Ransoms (wild Garlic) leaves for the year.

Not that was the first harvest of the year.  In January, I was able to pick a few flowers from the trough of Saffron crocus I'd planted at end at Summer.  I extracted the stamens and set them to dry, and by February was able to use them in a risotto.  I've sown little pots of salad microgreens which sit on the kitchen windowsill and get snipped and added to sandwiches, salads and scrambled eggs.  At the allotment, we had kale to pick throughout the coldest of days, when all other crops gave up the ghost.  Ignore the tarring by the brush of earnest health charlatans, Kale is reliable, versatile and tasty.  It survives the worst that Winter can throw at it.  Grow it for that reason.

In fact, just last week I started the kale crops that will see us through next Winter.  At the weekend I sowed more salads and the first batch of peas & beans.  This morning I planted the first potatoes for the year, in potato planting backs, to be grown in the back garden for extra early cropping.  Hopefully this week will be dry enough to get started with planting the rest at the allotment before the month is out.

Despite the doom and chaos in the outside world, what I can organise myself is looking positive.