Friday, 25 April 2008

May Day approaches - already?

Spring is certainly upon us at last. The trees that I can see from the house were skeletal a week ago, now their form is filled in with fresh green leaves. The Ceonothus bushes that are dotted around the main road on the estate are starting to flower, and are masses of deep violet blue. Best of all, Bluebells are at last coming into bloom. As I pass by gardens, I look to see whether they have the big, blowsy but scentless Spanish Bluebells, or the delicate perfumed native true Bluebell. I silently rejoice when I spot the latter. I rescued some from the old house. I guess that was one upside of the garden having been neglected for so long - a clump of bluebells had been allowed to self-seed, so I lifted some every year and grew them on in pots. By making sure there are no Spanish ones to cross pollinate nearby, I hope to build up a good clump here and at the new allotment.

Progress is being made at the allotment. Some more raised beds have been marked out, and hopefully posts and sides will be in place at the weekend. With any luck, the council will be delivering another load of compost soon as well. The soil is still pretty claggy and hard to dig, but if we don't get a move on it will dry out and be unworkably dry for the year. At least it's not full of stones like the old place. We have found a few pieces of china, including some fairly old looking stuff - Willow Pattern mostly, including part of a little jar. No coins so far. One of the best finds on the old plot was an early William III halfpenny I dug up when I was planting Jerusalem Artichokes. Still, looking on the map, there is the remains of a Motte & Bailey castle at the top of the hill, not far from the golf club house. Maybe something interesting was dropped when the woods that are next to the new plot were part of the royal hunting grounds (Enfield Chace).

As I mentioned last week, the instructions in the Wartime Weekend Gardener for the fourth weekend of April could refer to last week or this. That is - sow celery, plant out Summer cauliflower, sow Autumn cauliflower and sow some hardy annual flowers for cutting and for use in companion planting.

It's good that this weekend can be used to catch up. Next weekend we have another Bank Holiday and thus three day weekend, and things get even busier.

Have a good week, and for those of you in areas where there are local elections, remember to vote for someone who you won't feel embarrassed about in years to come. I don't honestly expect Sian Berry to be elected London mayor, but at least I'll know I'm stating that I want the right kind of change.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Better news - for now

First things first - good news on the Amersham rescue ponies & donkeys. They can stay at their rescue centres for the time being. But it's a story that still needs watching, because I suspect if the final decision goes against the best interests of the animals, efforts will be made to keep it out of the public eye.

Yet again, the weather is on the turn for the weekend. Fortunately, the instructions in The Wartime Weekend Gardener could count for next week as well:

Sow celery under cover. Celery can be slow to germinate, and too much hard work for a novice gardener unless a self-blanching variety. But it's such a useful vegetable that it's worth the effort.

Sow cauliflowers for Autumn and Winter harvest. This is where a variety like All the Year Round proves good value, as the seeds not sown earlier in the year can be used now.

Start sowing annual flowers. As well as brightening up the plot, or even providing an element of disguise, many of these flowers are useful for attracting beneficial insects for pollination and keeping pests down.

It's probably too late now for Sweet Peas, but they can be bought as young plants. French Marigolds, in particular single flowered varieties, are essential. I also like Escholzia and Cosmos, especially the variety Purity. Nasturtiums not only provide flowers for colour, they also have edible flowers leaves and seeds, though keep an eye on them if you want to eat them - they are also useful as a "sacrificial" plant, drawing blackfly and Cabbage White butterflies away from crops.

Hope the rain stays away, and if not, washes away "Le Stink"

Saturday, 12 April 2008

A week of extremes

This has been a strange week. The Olympic torch arriving in London showed the British do sometimes have the guts to protest - though as per usual, the French did it better. The weather went from unseasonably warm and sunny to 4 inches of snow - which melted by lunchtime. After months of not bothering due to impending scalp surgery, I finally took care of my hair and in less than an hour, went from too long and unkempt to short, soft and managable. I no longer have to keep it under control with a series of bands and clips. I feel a burden has been taken away.

But above all one thing has been troubling me.

Those of you who are UK based may recall that earlier this year, there was a major news story about police and RSPCA rescuing over 100 horses ponies and donkeys who were in the process of being starved to death on a farm near Amersham. The skeletal corpses of around thirty others were found on site. It emerged that the "farmer" was buying them cheap at auctions, then planning to ship them to the meat trade.

At a preliminary hearing into the cruelty case, the Judge decided that the ponies and donkeys were family pets, and could be returned to the family (in spite of evidence that they had been bought to be killed), and the remaining horses would be sold at auction to compensate the family for their financial loss.PLEASE have a look at this website that has been set up to help save the already rescued horses & Ponies form being sent to auction.

At auction these neglected animals will not go for any money and will most likely be bought for meat.

There is no excuse for this action, the RSPCA and the various horse refuges who were caring from them. In fact, they were handed over by the police for the express purpose of restoring them to health, rehabilitating them after the abuse and ensuring they were found a PERMANENT, CARING NEW HOME.

Please please write a letter and sign the petition when it is ready on the this site.



Amersham Horses - Help us protect them!

Please join us in asking Judge Kainth to overturn his decision to return 29 donkeys and ponies to James Gray and to send 82 rescued horses to a public auction.

Deputy District Judge Sandeep Kainth has ordered 29 donkeys and ponies be returned to Mr James Gray and his family. Oxford magistrates heard the family consider some of the donkeys and Shetland ponies to be pets.

Judge Kainth agreed to return the pets to the family but rejected their application to have the remaining 82 animals returned. These animals will instead be sold at auction in May in Warwickshire.

The RSPCA had argued that it should be allowed to oversee the re-homing of the animals in order to safeguard their future welfare.

But Judge Kainth said the donkeys and Shetland ponies had to be returned to the Grays, "as there is no evidence to show they are in any danger".

RSPCA inspector Kirsty Hampton said the decision to return the horses to the Grays was "devastating".


I know from my old job that there are many judges that live such cosy lives that they are too unworldly to understand and interpret laws involving abuse and violation of rights. It is up to us to campaign for the victims.

I find it shocking that the news media is giving so little space to this court decision. I have heard that they are people who are asking The Sun to launch a campaign to save ALL the animals - whatever you think of the paper, at least it knows how to make an impact.

Please pass this info on to anyone who may be interested.

Add to this the decision to go ahead with a cull of badgers to prevent bovine TB, in spite of scientific evidence that it will not work. Once again the NFU has shown that it only cares about penny pinching and big commercial farms. They have only recently had to defend themselves for blaming smallholders for the foot & mouth outbreak last Summer. No mention of vaccines and innoculation yet again.

When will they learn that in the long run a bullet is NOT cheaper than a needle?

Back to the main purpose of my blog.

The weather is still erratic, but Spring is rattling along apace.

The Wartime Weekend Gardener's task for this weekend include sowing French Beans. I've started some of mine, but my precious Cherokee Trail of Tears seeds will wait until the end of the month.

Sow a later cropping variety of Brussels Sprout. Nowadays most commercial seed catalogues only stock F1 varieties. As I only grow open pollinated (for reasons I really should explain sometime) I sow Bedford Fillbasket.

He also says this is the time to plant Second Early potatoes. I plant Kestrel, and when I can find them, the gorgeous Shetland Black. But as I was by my standards so far behind with the First Earlies, I'll wait a week or so.

Friday, 4 April 2008

More progress than expected

A Busy Week

Had things gone as expected this week, I may not have been able to post a blog. But things turned out better than expected, and I’m here, but very tired.

I was due to go into hospital to have an operation to remove a cyst on my head that had been damaged and become infected. This was the second attempt, as I was sent to a clinic a couple of months ago but the doctor managed to put the anaesthetic needle into a nerve in my scalp, so inflicted more pain instead of numbing. To accurately describe him would be an insult to ducks.

Anyway, this time I was left waiting for an hour and a half while an emergency was dealt with, giving me plenty of time to worry about what I was about to go through and to think about discharging myself and hoping for the best. Eventually I was called in and the specialist checked over the bump in question and told me the infection and swelling was gone, the cyst was healing and there was no need for an operation!

This gave us more time to work on the allotment, as I had expected to be out of action from Wednesday onwards. With lovely warm, DRY (!) Spring weather at last, we were able to start breaking up the soil - solid, compacted, mostly sodden pure clay - and start marking out and making raised beds. I can finally announce that our First Early potatoes were planted Wednesday lunchtime (just before I headed to hospital).

When we arrived Thursday morning, a monumental sight greeted us. The allotments had taken delivery of a humungous pile of municipal compost. All the more amusing to me by its remarkable resemblance in shape to Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons, though not shrouded in clouds. We jumped into action, filling the wheelbarrow countless times until the three compost "daleks" were filled with dark, sweet smelling compost, almost warm enough to melt the plastic.

We then added a thick layer to the potato bed and filled as many compost sacks as we could find. Next we marked out spots on the lower half of the plot where fruit trees would be planted, dug holes, filled them with compost and planted the relevant trees.

By lunchtime word had got out, and a good dozen or so plotholders were hurtling up and down the trackway with barrows and trugs filled with compost. On arrival this morning the pile had changed shaped - just as tall, but narrower - more like the Matterhorn. If the snow holds off there will be none left by Sunday afternoon!

Anyway, the plot is now taking shape, the first raised bed is in place, trees have been planted along the edge and the next phase of work is marked out with canes. I don’t think it’s ever possible to be on top of work in a garden, but now I don’t face the prospect of weeks self-consciously hiding away, I’m ready to tackle the work.

While I was waiting for the kettle to boil, I made a list of the birds I’d seen over the past few days. It’s pretty amazing:
Blue tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Blackbird, Robin, Mistle Thrush, Wren, Woodpigeon. Chiff Chaff. Magpie, Jay, Carrion Crow, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Black Headed Gull, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Heron, Mallard Duck, Wigeon, Teal, Mandarin Duck and Canada Goose. Heard but not seen were Moorhens and the resident Pheasant.
Peacock butterflies have been very active the past few days, as have various Bumble Bees. The beekeepers at the allotments have been tending their hives this week, and their charges have started to venture out. Ladybirds and hoverflies have just started appearing, as have mosquitoes.

As we were heading home this evening, the first bat of the year looped overhead.

For the past couple of nights, the hedgehog who I suspected was venturing into our garden has been making his presence very evident. The cat has been agitated about her territory being invaded, and at about 11pm hurtled to the back door. I’d left a bag of vegetable trimmings on the doorstep to take down to the compost bin in the morning, and the hedgehog was rooting through it, looking for slugs & snails. I put some Hedgehog food pellets out, but the cat started eating them, asserting her claim to the territory. Fortunately, I found a plant pot that had been damaged in the storms, and realised when turned over it had a neat hedgehog sized hole in the rim. So I our another pile of food out an placed the pot over it. The following night our little visitor (which we have named Russell Grunt) returned, and I was delighted to see found the plant pot and ate all the food.

Spring seems to be here at last. Let’s hope the cold snap expected this weekend is the last for a while.

So, the tasks set out in The Wartime Weekend Gardener are:

Sow more radishes and lettuce
Sow broccoli - purple or the less common white sprouting varieties
Sow more cabbage, such as Red Drumhead.

After the busy week I’ve had, I might hold off on more work until next week.