Where there’s Muck

Years of following a haphazard compost cycling routine has resulted in two full heaps of uncomposted matter.

20140511-133055.jpgI was always supposed to fill one side of my pallet compost system, before flipping it all over into the other side and starting the process again. This disciplined rotation would result in an annual harvest of beautiful, crumbly, loamy compost but somewhere along the line I got confused (or lazy) and chucked my kitchen waste into alternate sides.

Faced with nowhere else to tip my waste I had to face my rubbish mounds head on.

There followed a morning of complex muck juggling. Trying to balance piles of manky brassica stems and steaming grass sods until I could unearth some good stuff from the bottom of pile number 1.

I was rather pleased with what I uncovered. There was indeed some real composted stuff at the bottom of the heap and it was ready to be transferred to the squash bed.

With the first forkful I released a remarkably shiny silver teaspoon but the second fork filled me with joy.

20140511-125356.jpgThe removal of the second forkful revealed my long lost Messermeister Vegetable Peeler.

You may not have heard of the Messermeister peeler. For some unfathomable reason they are unavailable in the UK. I had to acquire mine from the US. They are by far and away the worlds best peeler. I brought this one rather tentatively into my new relationship. It’s the sort of gadget you can’t risk losing and I was sorely tempted to create a pre-nuptial agreement to ensure that the peeler came with me in the unfortunate instance of a relationship catastrophe.

This particular peeler went AWOL about two years ago but now has returned and I am so happy.

20140511-125409.jpgThe handle appears a little worse for wear. The soft outer coating appears to have decomposed rather successfully but the blade is as sharp as ever. A little TLC and this peeler can reclaim its spot in the kitchen drawer ready to see us through our dotage.

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Transferring the Peach in Severe Adverse Weather

Gripple Trellis Designs

While Lynn snuck out of bed to source cups of tea and toast, I churned out image after image of Gripple circuitry. I’d woken with a plan in my head and as an ever ready kind of a Scout, I just happen to keep a pad of grid paper by the bed for this sort of occurrence.

Having failed to find wire tensioners in Homebase last week I was pleased when my internet search uncovered a swanky new gadget for creating trellis constructions. It’s called the Gripple and I promptly ordered myself the starter pack of 4 Gripples, 4 Eye Hooks and a 30m reel of plastic wire.

This is where my puzzling started. Using only the above items, how do I (read: how does Lynn) create a fanned peach supporting wire combo with 4 lengths? We went for the 3rd aesthetically pleasing option and headed down to the plot.

I should perhaps have mentioned that we had chosen the weekend of the Severe Adverse Weather Warnings to partake in the peach transplantation event. It was a struggle removing the tree from the old plot with the famed light soil, a layer of ice had to be cracked away before the fork would gain entry and we ought to have thought about the difficulty of digging in our frozen heavy London clay plot.
But we didn’t.

Kaput Gripple

I was keen to play with the new toys but my hands were freezing and I had to run up and down the plot doing high knee raises and clapping my hands before I could contend with the fiddly bits.

The design of the “tensulator” was very smart and when it work I was very impressed. When it didn’t work, I let myself down rather a lot and had one of those, throw yourself on the floor wailing, kinds of a strop. A bit embarassing.

Here I am, pre-wailing, trying to force the wire to go through the Gripple and out the other end so that I could loop it back. No amount of forcing was going to tease the wire through and the thing is designed not to let me pull the wire back out again and it wouldn’t.

Cue strop.

Gripple in Action

We had to cut it off in the end and Lynn took it away to the shed to perform some kind of surgery on it (or perhaps she thought if she left me alone I’d stop flouncing).

We managed to get this one on successfully in the end but another Gripple got stuck after looping it around and without wasting loads of wire we couldn’t cut this one off. It was in a locked position but couldn’t be tensioned and so the finished job looked a bit naff but worked in a fashion.

I don’t know why we had trouble with two of the Gripples, if I’d had a pack of spares I wouldn’t have got myself too worried but I needed all 4.

The working ones were very neat and it proved easy to build up the tension. Our posts now look decidedly wonky as the incremental tensioning pulled them into an apex.

Cracking the Ice

I would like to have a handful of these in the shed for odd jobs but I’ll still remain concerned about their reliability.

My Dad left me his half tonne mattock after his last visit and a few swings of that saw my back in traction but also cracked the clay.

A robin swooped in to feast on some of the worms I’d just uncovered and reminded me how lovely it is to spend time down on the plot. With the feathering of snow also comes a peaceful calm that I rarely notice anywhere else. It’s a beautiful site.

The recent wet weather has made a huge difference to the clay, it’s incredibly heavy but you can at least force your tools through the surface. We got the peach in and it looked relatively cosy against its snowy backdrop.

450_peach

Back at home we got to play with the connectable outdoor Christmas lights that Dobbies sent me to try out. We’ve never had outdoor lights before and the new acquisition left me rather popular.

My first attempt at laying them out was snubbed by all though.

Xmas Lights

I’d trailed them through the letterbox, creating quite a draft and a trip hazard combined, and the lights ran out before they reached the tree base but in my defense it was cold out there and I thought the twinkling effect set the recycling bin off very nicely.

We headed back to Homebase to research outdoor electric options and came back with an enclosed extension lead that we could position at the base of the tree and feed through a specially drilled hole in the window frame.

Our neighbours have kindly planted a leylandii which forms the perfect support for our lights. The kids were able to scrabble up and position the cabling while we stayed at the bottom prepared to catch them.

These Christmas Tree lights were very good quality piece of kit, the cabling is very solid and formed of 3 twined cables with generously spaced bulbs. There is a waterproof connector so that you can join multiple sets without leaving gaps in the lighting. We are quite tempted to go nuts and light up the whole house.

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Cold Birthday Drinks

Shed Beer Fridge

I was intrigued yesterday to see a recipe for a shed beer fridge in Allotment Growing Diary Plus, and as it’s my birthday today I thought it was a fine excuse for enjoying cold beer on the plot.

The idea is that the terracotta pot cools following evaporation of the absorbed water.

It certainly seemed to work, within an hour the pot was very cool but I made the mistake of starting with warm beer. I was too impatient to wait for the full process had to make do with coolish, luke warm beer.

I’ve left a couple of beers in there and topped the tray up before I left so we’ll see how long it works for. Maybe there will be an icy beer waiting for me after work tomorrow.

And here’s a gratuitous flower picture. I’m so happy with these dahlias, I grew them from seed and never imagined they’d be so successful.

Dahlia

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Fireside Gardening

With the recent spate of inclement weather the green fingered addict has to look elsewhere for a horticultural fix. Here are a few of the ideas I came up with:

Plant Lables

While I was forced out of the garden this Easter, thoughts naturally turned to DIY and the flat ended up with a spring clean, a new lick of paint and an assortment of new shelves. With paint brushes and offcuts of wood littering the worktops it was an easy step to start rustling up a few homemade plant labels.

These are made from edging strips coated in white paint, the writing is done with a permanent marker and then coated with a layer of clear varnish. I reckon these will last a good few years and hopefully I won’t lose the next row of parsnips I sow – I can’t find the one I planted a few weeks ago.

Allotment Plan

Even with plant tags it can be quite easy to lose track of the layout of your plot. I’ve heard recently of a few websites that are offering plot design and garden layout tools so I tried out Plangarden which has two week free trial before asking your for a $20 per year subscription.

This enables you to draw up a visual image of your plot. I’m using it here to remember which variety of spud belongs to which row and to determine how much space I have left for everything I have left to sow.

It is its pretty useful but I’ve done it now and can’t quite see why I would carry on and pay for the subscription. There are a few other features such as a planting guide which aims to tell you according to location when it is appropriate to start planting. For my location it tells me that the last predicted spring frost will be the 25th April, so just one more month of anxiety to go.

There are two other gardening websites that I am much more convinced by and would like to recommend to you, these are myfolia and blotanical and both are free.

Myfolia is a beautifully designed website, it enables you to keep track of multiple different gardens eg veg patch, herb garden, flower bed and then monitor individual plantings in each. From there you can write blog posts and progress reports related to your plantings. It is linked to the online photo albums, flickr and picassa, so is very easy to create visually impactful posts.

I think this site is going to be invaluable when it comes to looking back and deciding when was the most successful time for planting broad beans for example. I have two rows planted a month apart and I will keep the progress reports going until they both crop.

The only thing about the site that I don’t like, is the enclosed nature of the website, I think you have to sign up in order to view the content so any blog post you write will only be seen by other members. This isn’t really a problem for me as I have an external blog anyway but I’d like to see an rss feed (or somesuch) that sucks in my existing posts rather requiring me to recreate them inside myfolia.

I’m sure things will change though, the developers are really keen to receive feedback and have made some great enhancements recently. For example the site also provides a few widgets to transfer myfolia content to your blog, on the lefthand toolbar I have a widget from myfolia detailing my latest plantings.

Apologies for the length of this post, we are now approaching the “and finally” bit.

And finally, there is blotanical. This is a great site, essentially a community of garden bloggers. Blogging communities are fairly common but this site has been designed so well you end up wanting to go back daily and as a result you are introduced to so many great blog posts and bloggers. I’ve never actually come across a site that manages to be quite so “sticky”.

All member blog posts are displayed on the site via an rss feed and can be viewed in all their visual glory, from within the blotanical site. You are encouraged through a membership point system to comment on and vote for outstanding blog posts. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this, I believe the voting system is sometimes used as a means to gain points rather than to highlight worthy reads but you aren’t obliged to join in.

Anenome

If you have a garden blog, I would really recommend signing up for blotanical, my readership numbers have trebled since I joined last month and a lot of new and welcome commenters have come my way. I’ve also been introduced to a number of local and more exotic fellow bloggers, so I am never short of something interesting to read.

Phew! All done, have a flower for lasting this far.

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Carriage Awaits

After last weeks struggle with the compost I decided it was time to invest in a high tech conveyor – a wheeled contraption is required for lugging the heavy stuff.

Revolution Trailer

This particular model is the Revolution Cargo trailer by Edinburgh Cycles. It normally goes for £125 but I managed to source one on ebay and save myself a fair sum. It is pretty impressive, very manoeuvrable and can carry 50 kg, which is a lot of compost. Now I have to go in search of things to carry, perhaps I should cancel the veg box and set up my own scheme delivering fresh produce from the back of the bike.

Pea Planter

Yesterday the trailer showed its worth by carrying two whole seed packets to the plot. My freebie pea and bean seeds had been delivered so I thought I’d better get them in before the weather got much colder. So thats another double row of Aquadulce and a row of Feltham First. It also means the whole of one side of the plot is now completed, where am I going to put all my plants next year? I think I may need another plot already, I can imagine the remaining side will be filled by squash plants as I have in the region of 7 varieties of seeds and I haven’t even started on the spuds and carrots and……

Shakti (pictured sowing peas in her posh gardening clobber) has offered me her garden shed for use on the plot. How exciting is that? The next few weeks are going to be taken up with dismantling crises, as we try and take it apart, balance it on the bike trailer and deliver it the allotment ready for reconstruction. The whole family have been called in to help with the construction part so it will make for some Heath Robinson style photos as I don’t think any of us are that talented in the DIY department.

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