Allotment Adventures: Berries

This week, I’ve been solo on the plot and we’re at the stage of the year when I’m all about watering, collecting fruit and tending to my tomatoes.

All the berries

At the weekends, especially when I’m on my own, I start with watering the front. So the rhubarb, gooseberries, summer squash, cucumbers, beetroot, carrots, mint pots and beans. Then I pick the berries, then I water and feed the berries. Half a kilo of blackcurrants, 750g of blueberries and some alpine strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries. Took a while to pick.

That done, I watered the rest and then it was tomato time. This time of year they tend to need attention every two weeks, so I did that, stripping the leaves, taking the shoulders out, tying them up. That also took a while because there are a lot of them (four beds outside, eight in the polytunnel. They are all in flower too, even the littlest ones in the hospital bed and the ones in the polytunnel that I was convinced would die. So they got a feed and I got to get excited by the first teeny tiny tomatoes.

Hello, little tomato

That done, I harvested a pot of potatoes and watered the potatoes and winter squash. There isn’t a huge amount of produce coming in right now, because I’m behind due to a colder spring and my inability to organise and sow earlier. Maybe with the poly, I’ll sow summer squash earlier next year. Overall, I’m not mad about this, it’s nice not to have too much washing and processing of veg – in a month or so’s time, I’ll be busy enough!

Winter squash and beans

What’s on my mind at the moment is the weeds, it’s summer, the paths are full of weeds. I’ve been looking at grass alternatives for the side of the raised beds next to the dividing path because the woodchip isn’t working, maybe thyme or irish moss, it’s something to think about.

I have Friday off and a big chunk of that day is going to be spent weeding. I also need to pull up the peas, mulch the rest of the back bed, strim the grass on the path dividing my plot from Dennis’, planting out the basil and sowing fennel.

It really is a case of some of that should get done but I’m really not sure how much!

On Sunday, it’s the Open Day, so if you’re in Ealing, come and admire our site.

Jasmine ‘clotted cream’
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Monday Miscellany: Busy but not busy

Happy Monday!

Last week was weird, I was only in the office for the day because of the rail strike, relatively busy at work and in that period of time when I’m really on top of home things…even the ironing. Welcome to mid summer, that period of the year when I am on fire with productivity.

I was out Friday night, it was a leaving do, I had to go into the office on Friday with the most obnoxious gift bag ever!

I spent most of Saturday on buses trying to get to my mum’s house. Ma had just tested negative for Covid after a week (and you need two before you can go about in the world again) and she’d run out of food. Some days the buses work and it’s fine, other times and Saturday was one of them, they are just a nightmare, I spent roughly 6 hours on a bus or waiting for a bus on Saturday.

On Sunday I had a slow morning and was at the plot at 12-ish with the idea that I’d do a couple of hours and go home, six hours later, I went home.

I’m actually heading for a couple of overly social weeks, I’m taking some leave on Friday so I can work on the plot before being out on Saturday and manning the drinks stall at the Allotment Open Day on Sunday. The following weekend, Sue is having a belated birthday party. Then I think I’m probably refusing to do any socialising until August!

And that’s pretty much it for what I’m up to. Have a good week.

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Friday Links: By-Elections

Happy Friday!

It’s been a week. I’m ok, still surrounded by the infected, still not infected. Completely fed up with the way the rail strikes are being reported and (at time of writing) hopeful that the Wakefield and Honiton and Tiverton by-election results will give Johnson a bloody nose. I live in hope…

Here are this week’s links..

Look around, the Great Conservative Experiment has failed in the UK. But don’t you dare point out that life is objectively worse for most of the population because apparently that’s wishing us back to the ’70’s and that was really bad. (One of my early memories is the 1979 election – I was 6, so I can’t say I remember the 70’s but I grew up in the 80’s and it was pretty grim..)

Without a proper plan, stagflation will be the least of Britain’s problems

Johnson and Shapps pretend they can’t end the rail strikes. That’s nonsense

Strikes? Labour’s fault. Immigration? Lawyers’ fault. Don’t blame Boris Johnson

Whenever Johnson has a problem, he calls Zelenskiy – and the bill is rapidly mounting

Profiteering bosses, not workers, are pushing up inflation. Here’s how to fight back

Britain’s Unbridgeable Divide

This summer of discontent should be a gift to Labour – so where are Starmer’s big ideas?

Union boss Mick Lynch is a media star – and Labour has much to learn about why. He has just played a blinder…

A third of UK ‘buy now, pay later’ users say they can’t handle payments. This feels like it’s going to be the new payday loans scandal. The FCA are going to step in and make it difficult for people who can use this responsibly, while not actually helping the people who are in real trouble.

Macron has been sent tumbling to Earth – now he’ll have to learn to compromise

The Woman Who Killed Roe. This is a long and horrific read. Worth reading anyway

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Allotment Adventures: Hot and Cold

It feels like in the last couple of weeks we’ve had all the weather. It’s been very hot and sunny and also (Sunday I’m looking at you!) unseasonably cold and miserable.

The plot is looking ok for it though.

I was solo this weekend because Ma has covid. I’m testing negative but I feel like a loads of people have gone down with it recently. Anyway, Ma was confined to home and I did an early morning session at the plot, before it got to hot (7:30 to 2pm).

My plan for Saturday was to deeply water the plot, gather some potatoes and fruit, maybe potter about and then get out of the heat. I’d already given the plot a massive watering on Friday night and emptied two pots of potatoes that I suspected had ant infestations. One did, one didn’t, but I had watered that used up compost. On Saturday, I another quick weed of the back flower bed, watered it and laid down some cardboard and put the used compost on top of it. I didn’t get the whole bed, but perfect is the enemy of good and we’ll do the rest this weekend or as the compost becomes available. As we empty the potato pots, the used compost will mulch my flower beds and rhubarb plants.

Back flower bed

I also harvested onions, carrots, peas, blueberries, boysenberries.

I also finally got the extra sungold plants that I ordered back in May. Except they weren’t sungolds, they were tumbling toms and 10 of them are dead. I have enough tomatoes though but I am miffed, my guess it that they got more orders then they had tomatoes, and they had to grow other seedlings that might not have been in the best health. I have ordered from the ‘Grow Your Own’ magazine offers before and was really impressed with You Garden plants. Not so much this time.

The polytunnel is looking fuller at the moment, very soon I’ll get the garlic and onions out, I’m thinking that for next year I need a laundry pulley thing for drying the onions and garlic out!

I also planted out the remaining summer squash. All of them are alive, final count is three courgettes, one crookneck squash, four pattypans and three straightneck squash. The straightnecks are less fussy that the crooknecks and if we were just growing for production we might not grow the crooknecks, but we love that they look like swans….

Wild area

I did a bit of weeding and admired my jasmine, which is about to flower.

Finally, I welcomed a visitor to the plot. Hello, little frog…

Frog

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Frogs….

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Recommended: HG Mould Spray

The house I live in was built sometime in the early 1900’s, in fact with one exception all the houses I’ve lived in were built between 1850 and 1925. They weren’t built with indoor bathrooms or central heating, they weren’t designed for the most part with running water in mind at all, which is why so many British kitchens have washing machines in the kitchen!

They aren’t great at retaining heat in winter or staying cool in summer either and as my flat is a conversion, it’s all that with no outdoor space. Which means that the bathroom and the bedroom where I dry clothes can get mould. It’s not a huge amount of mould. In the bathroom it’s on the tile grouting and in the bedroom it’s on the wall that the airer stands when I’m drying things and it’s just on the surface.

I’m pretty good about leaving the window open in those rooms but every couple of months, I use this, just to keep things clean and stop the mould getting a grip of walls. It has bleach in it, so careful of your clothes when you’re using it, but it works better than using just bleach would because I’ve tried that!

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Friday Links: 17 June

Happy Friday!

News this week should be taken with a martini

Links this week are in no particular order because the government is horrible and everything they do is terrible.

Right to buy put homes in the hands of landlords. Rehashing it will do the same

I was the first firefighter into Grenfell Tower. Little has changed, and it could happen again. I think I’ve said this before, I know of David Badillo, he’s friends on facebook with cousins and people I went to school, he sometimes pops up on ‘people you might know’ on Facebook. It’s easy to see Grenfell as only happening to immigrants, but people who live in council housing used to be respected, now they are just seen as spongers to be ignored, as the Grenfell inquiry has and is showing. It’s not just a Tory problem, it’s a middle class problem. Now the political classes have ripped up all the protections and respect for the working class, they’re coming for the middle class. Even if you don’t care that 71 people died because the council and housing authorities were more concerned about something being pretty instead of safe, you should be outraged, because don’t you think they’re not coming for you.

Right in front of our eyes, Britain’s entire political order is being demolished

It’s no wonder a new Scottish IndyRef is in the works: the status quo is unsustainable. I’ve said for a while now, that this incarnation of the Conservative and Unionist Party, is going to lead to the break up of the Union. I’m not Scottish but if I were and asked now, well an independent Scotland couldn’t do any worse than the Tories have done. I think it’s going to be a toss about whether Northern Ireland or Scotland go first but I think we’ll probably see the break up of the Union in my lifetime.

Ministers want Britain to be more like Netflix: debt-ridden and fast losing fans

From the government that achieves next to nothing, it’s the Rwanda flight to nowhere

Smart meters are not just ‘dumb’ but a scandalous waste of money. I have refused to have smart meters installed because I had to minute meetings in a previous role, where these things were discussed. To this I would also add if I have a smart meter from one supplier and change to another, assuming the meter doesn’t go dumb, what would happen if it broke down? My understanding is that I would be liable for the cost of replacing it as my new supplier wouldn’t as they didn’t fit it. Despite the impression that energy companies tell you, unless you sign a contract with them, you don’t have to have one and that might change in future years, but it hasn’t yet, so I’m staying with the ones the flat came with.

Britain is already in the grip of a deep malaise – what happens when zero growth bites?

I’m sick of daft Tory ideas to reinvigorate Britain, so I’ve come up with a few of my own

The government is picking a fight with reality with its NI protocol bill

Poverty leaves scars for life – I’m still scared of strangers at the door and bills through the letterbox. We really need to think about the lasting impacts of poverty on physical and emotional health and the impact it has going forward.

UK food price rises could hit 15% over summer, report says. This is why people are worried

Doctors warn against over-medicalising menopause after UK criticism. GP’s yet again defending themselves instead of listening to what women are telling them. Which is that we need to be listened to when we say something is intolerable for us. Some women can ride out the symptoms, good for them, most women endure the symptoms because they can’t get their GP’s to listen to them when they say they are struggling to cope. I have dealt with my doctor not taking me seriously because of my weight (asthma is not reflux). However, over menopause, they were brilliant,  I saw a doctor when I was 43 about menopause symptoms and she was great and walked me through options. At that point, we decided that I would do a couple of other things to see if they helped. They did, but last year, I decided that I’d like to try HRT so we did that.  The biggest issue at the moment is getting it, they will only issue in 2 month chunks and review often, combined with a shortage, I ended up coming off for a month. One of the worst things about being a woman, is that society glosses over your issues, this feels like GP’s are trying to do the same and I will be listened to on this. I know what I can cope with and my symptoms of menopause (No, hot flushes but every month before a period, I got what felt like a fever, my migraines got worse and flooding was also a thing – having to fake my mother falling over, so I could leave the office, without having to tell my male boss that I needed to go home because I’d run through 3 pairs of underwear and the black trousers I was wearing had bloodstains on them) where not things I was or am prepared to go through because it’s ‘natural’.

I’m nearly 60. Here’s what I’ve learned about growing old so far. Number 8 has been me since I was about 35

Finally, I got Covid. Give me chicken soup, Marmite and drugs. I really enjoy knowing what people crave when they are sick. (Boiled Chicken and Hot Orange Squash over here!)

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Allotment Adventures: It was my idea

June is one of the best months in the garden, it’s not producing loads but the berries are starting, it’s all looking green and and if you have them, the flowers are blooming.

It’s also really busy. For the first time in six years, I have all the beds built and filled and most of them are planted, I also have eight blueberry bushes in pots, three blackberries, nine pots of mints, an old tin bath with strawberries in it, 12 pots of potatoes and a polytunnel. Which means that watering takes over an hour, two 10 litre cans don’t go as far as you think. It’s also time to tell you again that if you are complaining about ‘hand watering’ with a hose, I don’t want to hear it, it’s not a hardship!

Yes, I do ask whose stupid idea it was to have a full plot and to grow so many things that need watering and it was my idea, I did this to myself. I only do a full watering of the plot on the weekend though. I will if it doesn’t rain do a midweek watering of the greedy crops. Right now that’s the polytunnel, the squash, the tomatoes and the blueberries if they are looking wilt-y. All of those crops except the blueberries will only get thirstier as they grow.

Boysenberry

If you didn’t read my post on Monday, you won’t know that my annual ‘the bastard bitey insects bit me’ post happened this week. Ma did not get bitten at all, I got a double dose of possible spider bites on my arm during the week AND ants biting my neck on Saturday! I need to take more anti histamines to keep at the plot and get some more insect repellant which I need to use more frequently.

Sore arm

We got strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and the first blackcurrants this week though so I can’t be too mad about it. The strawberries were amazing and we are going to grow many more of them, in towers not because I love watering pots but because it’ll protect them from the slugs.

Strawberries

The slugs are out in force, I’ve got some damage on the beans and courgettes and in the poly too, I think that I’ll see how it goes but it might be time to nemaslug those buggers, I’m also going to buy some ant baits for the poly and around the blackcurrants. I’m not keen on bitey bloody ants and I know that they are important for the ecosystem but it seems like there are more of them this year.

Ma and I thought that we were going to really concentrate on the weeding this week. However, it’s June, it takes at least an hour to water and another to pick fruit so that’s two hours gone. It was apparent that we had to pull the other bed of garlic up as the rust had got to it. We bought a mixed bunch of garlic last year, some early, some late and it’s now apparent that we need to grow early garlic, which we can over winter and harvest early (last year we harvested about this time but this year we did it two weeks ago and the rust really got a hold in those two weeks!). Some of the onions are falling over so I think they’re be ready in the next week or so. The garlic and onion beds will get a top up of compost and then in July will be planted up with brassicas. After that, I’m thinking that the ‘onion’ bed will be my asparagus bed, I think it’ll happily take eight to ten crowns and yes I know that the best time to plant asparagus is last season but it’s taken me this long to know that I want to grow it.

I’ll also digress from the allotment to talk about what I bought this week. Thanks to a Grow Your Own magazine offer, I’ve spent £22 and got myself a lime tree, a lemon tree and a cherry bush. The lime and lemon are in a 9 cm pot, so I’ll need to be patient about getting fruit, the cherry comes in a three litre pot so will be a little bit more established but not that much! I’m excited!

Nearly done with clearing the chard

Back to the plot. While I watered, Ma started to cut down the chard, which is a huge undertaking. We harvested and then I ‘loved’ my tomato babies. The ‘hospital’ bed outside has a couple of plants that are doing well and a couple that I’m dubious about, the six in the poly are doing well. The three good beds, which have Amish Paste, Feo de Rio Gordo, Gardeners Sweetheart, Yellow Millefleur. Black Russian and Tigerella are all doing well, there are baby flowers on the Tigerella already but tomatoes are a marathon in the UK not a sprint, it’s a long time from now until August!

Tomatoes all tied up

While I was tending to my babies, Ma weeded the back bed. I took some time to point out to her what the lavender looked liked. At one point she asked me if she should weed the rocket, I said yes. This was a mistake as she pulled up one of my lavenders. It was the Edelweiss lavender. I rescued it from the weed bag, trimmed it and potted it up in new compost, it’s had a heavy watering and we’ll see if it lives. Ma gets annoyed with me because I let most of the borage and oregano that self seeds live but that is no excuse for killing innocent lavender plants, and it’s not the first time she’s done it either. How can you so consistently mistake lavender for rocket or rosemary?

Less weeds and minus a lavender plant!

More weeding to do next week, we need to finish that back bed (but clearly, Ma won’t be allowed to do it on her own! Once it’s weeded, I’m going to lay down more cardboard, water it and add used potato compost from the pots to mulch and feed that soil (it was a very weedy area and it’s going to take some work). Over the next year, I’m going to look at densely planting at the front of the plot and in the rose and plot area, to suppress some weeds and distract from ones that will persist. If I had my way, I’ll just plant more lavender, it’s my favourite..

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Book Squee: The Farther Corner – Harry Pearson

When I was a kid I watched a lot of football. I’m from a family that likes football, both my parents, my Grandad and my brother were all pretty keen and we went to a lot of football matches. I wasn’t as keen, but to the rest of the world, my I quite like football translates to ‘Nic is pretty keen on football’.

What I really miss about football is watching a game as it happens, listening on the radio or watching on TV is fine but actually watching it live is a totally different experience. I’ve always said that if I ever won the lottery, I’d have a season ticket to Chelsea and Ma would like a box at QPR (that would make the nephews behave!) because I like watching live football matches. I even enjoyed the time we went to watch the Corinthian Casuals.

All of this is a very long winded way of explaining why I picked up The Farther Corner. This is one of those books that gives you a sense of place, random facts about football, the North East, the history of both. It’s a tribute to all the people who participate in the lower (way lower) league game, it manages to explain why it’s important and what the North East has lost in the last 50 or so years. It does all that without being worthy and being really funny.

It was a delight, I took it up to Newcastle with me in May and really annoyed Ma by reading bits of it to her when I wasn’t just laughing whilst reading.

I don’t think you have to like football to read it, but if you do read it, it might make you want to go and watch a game of football!

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Monday Miscellany: Bitey Insects

Happy Monday!

Last week was a pretty standard week, I worked from home Monday-Wednesday and at the office Thursday-Friday. I quite like going into the office on a Friday, and I’m not the only one, this week we had six of us in and it’s quite nice. I got to spend a part of my lunch hour helping a colleague choose new glasses (we narrowed it down to two and he ended up buying both pairs!).

Right on schedule, for summer, I got my first set of nasty bites. I’m pretty sure that it was the raspberry picking on Thursday night. It’s actually a little later than usual, June rather than May, and although they did swell, it didn’t require shots this time (which is a mercy given the state the NHS is in!) just more anti histamines. To add insult to injury, on Saturday at the plot, I got bitten by ants, while picking blackcurrants! It really wasn’t my week on the allotment, but there were strawberries so I guess it all balances out.

The unsurprising disappointment of the week was that my new kitchen is being delayed, this is mostly because they can’t find the staff. Bobby who is a neighbour as well as a builder, just can’t get the crew, so it’ll probably be October, which sucks, but I am aware it’s a first world problem. Although I’m not sure if my sink will stay in the counter that long! What it does do, is give me some time to have a proper clear out of the kitchen and cupboard of doom, which should help packing it up easier when it comes time to do the work.

Which is why on Saturday night I consoled myself with a martini! It was World Gin Day so totally appropriate!

I imagine that heaven looks like a cold, dry gin martini

In other news, last week’s budget moment continued and I fixed my energy tariff. Before the price rise in April, I was paying about £60 a month, I adjusted my direct debits to £120 a month and was thankful that I could do so but there will be another price rise in October (and possibly January as the cap setting goes to every three months). It’s all a bit of a gamble but the fix based on my yearly usage estimates a cost of Just under £100 per month, so cheaper than I estimated for right now. It’s also a ‘carbon-neutral’ tariff, using renewable energy for all the electricity and offsetting my gas use, so it seemed like a no-brainer.

Least anyone thinks, I’m getting really sensible, I did buy a lime tree, a baby lemon tree and a cherry bush (look, I like cherries and it would be really amazing to be able to grow lime for a G&T, I’ve been hankering after all of them for at least three years!)

Plans for this week are much the same as last week, there are no plans. I do have to deliver a training/presentation to the team as part of my objectives and I need to write up a couple of processes which I put on my objectives in order to make me do them. My method is always to get as many of my objectives complete or almost done in the summer, I find it harder to focus in the autumn/winter!

Ma is away during the week and I think Sue is back so I may get a walk in with her this week but if not then next week.

Finally, I wanted to leave you with this picture. My neighbours are growing tomato plants in front of the house (the front has better light than their tiny decked area at the back of the house). I’m honesty delighted and have offered to water them when they are away next month!

Have a good week!

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Recommended: A Work Bag

I have always resisted using a rucksack for carrying my work laptop to and from the office, I was given one when I was issued with the laptop but for the size of them they were bulky and single purpose. So I used another bag and took that, with my handbag into the office when I went in. Then I started bringing a water bottle and a coffee cup into the office with me along with my breakfast and lunch, and my laptop bag and handbag. It was all getting a little less manageable. I walk from home to the station, it takes about 20 minutes and is usually the time I call my mum (yes I talk to her every day, no it’s not co-dependent) and one day in March, when I also needed to bring some produce into the office (I have a veg for birds deal going with my boss) I snapped. Four bags was too many to carry, especially when you are also juggling with a phone.

It was time for one bag to carry everything. This was the first thing I came across and it’s pretty good. I love that the main opening is framed. There is a section for keeping things cold AND a place for my laptop. There are also handles at the top so I don’t always have to carry it on my back.

It’s still not the most stylish thing I own, but it’s functional and saves me some morning stress, which is always good!

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