Monday, 30 June 2008

A Big Green Leaf

Emma T over at one of my favourite blogs A Nice Green Leaf is celebrating the half-way point of the year and the sheer green-ness of the world with a Big Green Leaf shout-out. I love this idea as I'm more into veggie growing than flowers at the moment. All of my pics were taken in failing light last night so not the best. But - hey - I learnt how to do a slideshow too!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

It's All About Me

OK, here goes. I can put off this Six Random Things About Me post no longer.

I've been tagged a few times (the latest by Victoria) but I'm going to tweak it a bit (because I'm lazy. There you go! Seven random things.....) so I'm dispensing with the rules and everyone else has been tagged I reckon.

Freckles. Lots of them. All of my children have them too, but none as many as me. I don't mind them, never have done, but it does mean I do not tan. At all.

Food. Oh, I love food so much. To the point of gluttony (hence the need to lose at least two stone. And no, it's not baby weight). I was an incredibly fussy eater as a child; I remember sitting next to my anxious mother while the doctor reassured her that a diet of crisps would not harm me. So take heed, parents of fussy children.

Only child. Yep, that's me. And while I grew up next to my best friend, also a singleton, and so did not have a lonely childhood, it is when you're older that you feel the lack of siblings. All those unspoken dreams, expectations plus the deaths and divorces that you have to shoulder on your own.

Tandem skydive. No I shall not be repeating this, although it was pure exhilaration. And no, for the record, everyone could not hear me screaming as I exited the plane. That is just a nasty rumour.

Breastfeeding and Home Education. Now I sound like an old hippy, which I'm not. But I've done both, with varying success. Very good at the former and feel quite passionate about it. Have been asked to consider becoming a breastfeeding counsellor. Not very good at the latter but don't get me started on the school system, of which we are now well and truly a part of.

Accident prone. With myself and belongings. That new roof box we've only just bought? Me (I forgot it was on the roof). Those marks on my arms? Battle scars from the Aga. Scar on my left foot? Dropped a heavy knife, point down. No, I wasn't wearing shoes. Or socks. That'll teach me.

I have to say this has been the hardest post to write by far. And contains absolutely nothing about gardening!

Friday, 27 June 2008

Just Rewards

I find the longer I leave between visits to the allotment, the harder it is to visit. The weeds take on mammoth proportions, everything has been eaten down to a one inch stump, nothing is growing; all these thoughts whirl round my head.

But visit I must. The other night I didn't want to but I had (more) runners to put in, the first lot are not doing too well, and the weeds were growing well.

Now, here's the thing. It is always, always, always worth it. I weeded. Watered. Planted my runners. Weeded some more. Tied in my sweetpeas. Oohed and ahhed over my three carrots. And mulched as if my life depended on it.

I admit to needing, usually by about Wednesday, some child-free space and time. Last week I went to quite an effort to get it but this week, as I watched a cock pheasant strutting around the veggie patches, I wondered why I don't automatically make this my go-to place.

And as I wondered around my tiny domain, planning and plotting, I picked my first harvest. I found some strawberries the slugs hadn't and the birds had kindly left me some raspberries.

I'd like to say I shared them with everyone the next morning. I'd also like to say I didn't polish them off with cream left over from birthday cake making.
I'd like to but I can't........

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Thank You!

I wanted to post a heartfelt THANK YOU to Patientgardener for her suggestion on my last post of getting the school gardening club children to plant a nasturtium seed each which they can then take home at the end of term.

I have to say that is a much better idea than the one I came up with, which was to give them all a tomato plant. By the time it comes to giving them out, they'll be large, hopefully complete with toms, which will make them tricky to transport to school. Then of course there's the obvious one that I had not considered - the children would not have had a hand in their growing.

The results - eleven pots - can be seen above. I've brought them home to look after and water as, um, watering isn't the children's strong point. They're keen but tend to forget. So, just to give them a helping hand I'm babysitting.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Hand Holding With "The Playground Potting Shed"

I can't quite believe how many gardening books are out there. Or rather, how many veggie growing books are groaning on the shelves of my nearest chainstore bookshop.

I've also lost count how many allotment tomes there are, and I admit I own er....two of them. No, three. No, hold on..... Anyway, I don't know what the difference is between vegetable growing and growing on an allotment, I imagine the principles are the same but maybe it's a marketing ploy.

There is even a book, I'm delighted to say, about running your own school gardening club The Playground Potting Shed by Dominic Murphy which has been my bible in recent weeks, holding my hand through my Monday night I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M GOING TO DO WITH THEM!!!!! jitters.

And it has been immensely helpful, if not quite as "foolproof" boasted of on the cover. The most important thing I've learnt, and which went some way to helping me relax, is that there will be mistakes and IT DOESN'T MATTER.

Obvious, I know, but something that I was blinkered about in the first few weeks in a I've Just Cost The School Fifty Quid In Plug Plants And I'm Worried It Will All Be For Nothing kind of way.

The book's arranged termly which is great and this week I plan to steal his idea of making bug hotels from bamboo canes which, knowing my lot, will take all of five minutes. Not all the weeks tally, with this half-term seemingly stretching on forrrrevvvvvverrrrrrrr and some ideas are just the wrong time but it does at least kick-start my brain. A bit. What I'd obviously love is for Dominic to pop over to the garden, have a quick look-see then pop back to tell me exactly what to do for the next five weeks (FIVE WEEKS? I'm ready to break up now, so to speak).

Still, you can't have everything so what I've got is the next best thing - hand-holding via idea generating all wrapped up in a hardcover, with a lovely picture and a cute title on the front.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Veggie Wrecking Dog Anyone?

Y'know sometimes I wonder why I bother.

If it's not the hen decimating my precious herb garden with her egg laying exploits, it's the dog burying her prized pig's ear in one of my containers.

The wooden trough did contain carrots and spring onions, something I have struggled to grow on the allotment. Seems I'm struggling to grow them at home too. And to think, I was giving her a treat....

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Shopping Til I'm Dropping

I popped into the garden centre the other day. I know, I know, you'd have thought I'd learnt my lesson. Obviously a glutton for punishment.

However I absolutely needed some tomato grow bags (which they didn't have) and some of those pots you use with the bags that's supposed produce a bumper crop. Or something. Anyway, they didn't have any of those either.

But did I leave empty handed? Huh, did I heck.

We'll just pop along to the plant section, I cheerfully instructed, pushing the buggy with a subdued and strapped-in toddler, trailing a chattering one behind me.

Big Mistake. I chose a three pots of runner beans, giving me at least nine plants, but thought I won't be able to use my card for that measly purchase.

Never fear, I managed to buy some other stuff. Pots to transplant my gardening club's end of term present of tomato plants into, a big pot for some veggies (haven't decided what yet), a lovely concoction of fish, blood and bone, chives and - tra la - my favourite chocolate mint!

Do I feel guilty, what with all this talk of high inflation, credit crunch, spiralling food prices not to mention the cost of the diesel to get me there? Of course I do, although being a stay-at-home mum means that I always feel guilty. I think it's in the job description.

But I've been feeling fed up (trying to unravel that one too) so a little retail therapy goes a long way. Plus, I reason, some women buy clothes or shoes to cheer themselves up. At least my purchases will benefit the whole family. I hope.

Friday, 20 June 2008

My Little Green Fingered Gang

We were on holiday last week (could you tell?) and so consequently the school gardening club didn't run. I'm not so possessive that I would mind somone filling in, but there were no offers.

But - my! - what a difference two weeks make. It had been a fortnight since the last club and I hadn't bothered to check on the garden so it was a lovely surprise to see it on Tuesday.

The cabbages! The spinach! The runner beans! There was so much to look at and the children seemed excited to spot the green tomatoes and strawberries. Of course, there were downsides. It looked like someone had picked a courgette (the stalk had been cut and I'm sure two weeks ago there was a flower which by now must have matured to a veg) and the pumpkin has been totally eaten.

But apart from that everything looked lush and wonderful. I sighed a lot inwardly, thinking why couldn't my allotment be like that. After all, I spend more time on it.

Sometimes I struggle to think of things to do with them but to help me remember (and in case anyone is looking for inspiration) on this, Week Three of the second half of summer term, we: weeded planted the rocket they had grown from seed (I'm not sure this will grow as the seedlings were very small but I was desperate); carried on making the herb bed (there is a good team who seem to like doing this); planted some purple sprouting broccoli and refilled the pub slugs.

It doesn't seem like much but it filled the session. Trouble is, the school has got someone else to plant up troughs and baskets with the classes so I'm a bit limited about what we can do. I was rather hoping that would be in the scope of the gardening club so I'm hoping inspiration will strike in time for next week.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Slug Alert!!!!!

Usually I'm a news junkie, listening and reading to the news helps me feel in touch with the world. But just lately I've been trying to reduce my addiction because, quite frankly, it's utterly depressing.

So imagine my joy when visiting my dad, and fellow news junkie, with a dwindling willpower, leaving me to chance upon an article about the rise of the slug.

Yep, in the next couple of months we are going to be inundated with the creatures that have both male and female sex organs and can produce up to 200 eggs a season.

Thanks to a mild winter, wet spring or it raining four months ago last Tuesday their numbers will increas four fold. So something to look forward to then, because it doesn't look as if the summer is shaping up to much.

An expert was canvassed for their view and they suggested melon rinds, empty grapefruits and those nemotodes but to treat the soil before you plant. At this rate, my veg is going to cost double what it does in the shops, even with the hike in food prices.....

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

A Fairy In My Garden

This was undoubtedly the most beautiful sight in my garden today. I'm not really into flowers, but that will hopefully change, one thing at a time, so there are no blooms. But there was this. A fairy in my garden. I know she was a fairy because she told me so. Watering, of her own free will, a pot of salad. Ah, to be three-years-old.
Ahhhhhh, to being the mother of a three-year-old.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Everything is Blooming

I don't like to boast, really I don't. But I do feel a little bit pleased with my mini veggie container garden I have going on by the back door.

Pride comes before a fall, I know. In fact, when I was proudly, like a new mother, showing off to a friend my seedlings and dwarf French beans, that I thought would never grow, she very kindly pointed out all the weeds in the pot. Which weren't really weeds at all. Just little green things that shouldn't be there.

So here they all are. Some of the salad has even made it into our tummies; two of my children have now decided they like salad which warms the cockles of my heart. And makes it all the more worthwhile, if that's possible.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

My Garden Journal

I had thought this blog would suffice as a journal for my allotment and garden. And it does, after a fashion but really I just need somewhere to jot down unremarkable but interesting-to-me-information like "sowed two pots of sweet basil".

So I've appropriated a Roald Dahl hardback notebook that I was saving for some random classmate's birthday. I love Dahl and as it's peppered with lovely quotes throughout I'll be encouraged to keep writing in it.

And believe me, I need all the encouragement I can get. I'm not really a "sticker". I'm not a quitter, more of a flitter and since having children I have developed the attention span of a gnat. It's a wonder this blog has kept going as long as it has.

I've listed all the seeds I sowed the other day at home, the repotting and planting out I did and then I remembered to list all my allotment jobs. It'll also be home to cuttings from the Sunday supplements, plans and ideas.

Do other people keep gardening journals (am I last to the party as ever)? I have previously toyed with the idea but thought it would be just another "To Do", plus there is always the very real possibility I'd lose it. Do other jotters write in it every year or just use it as a reference once they've got a year's worth of info? We keep one at the gardening club but it takes a while for me to transplant the ideas from there to home. I'm hoping it will also be a nice record for the autumn of my years.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

I'm Branching Out

I fear I've been a bit boring in my veggie growing. That's ok; this is the first year I've done container veggie gardening and I'm feeling very pleased with myself.

Still, when I read The Edible Container Garden or other's blogs and they list all the wonderful veggies I do feel a pang. Part of it is due to lack of time - it's in short supply so I try to grow what I will know will definitely be eaten - and part of it is me being not very adventurous.

But all that is about to change! Behold my very first aubergine plant. I picked it up during the Awful Garden Centre Trip and was initially attracted by the beautiful foliage.

It's a 'Baby Belle' and according to the label it's attractive and bushy and just right for containers. The dwarf eggplant's fruits can also be eaten. I jolly well hope so. Even if it doesn't produce anything, I shall enjoy looking at it.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Every Cloud

I know, I thought, I'll squeeze a trip to the garden centre in now. I don't know why I don't normally go at this time. I can just pop in quickly with the little one and buy my bits. Perfect!

Fast forward half-an-hour and the reason why I don't hit any shops at four o'clock in the afternoon, much less my favourite ones, becomes all too apparent as I slam my goods on the counter and sprint after the disappearing back of my running two-year-old.

This was the fourth, or was it fifth, time I'd had to stop what I was doing to rescue my errant toddler. From the floor. From upending a watering can to make a puddle. From pulling the flower off a clematis. From running down a ramp again and again. From underneath a flower display.

As he writhed and screamed in my arms an old lady, the place was full of them, told me my son, who I was feeling a bit cheesed off with, was tired. She could tell. It was his eyes. Actually, he wasn't, he was just bored.

Shush, shush, shush, whispered another old dear as she walked past us. Oh thanks, that's sure to help. Why didn't I think of that, I managed not to say. Out loud anyway.

Still every cloud and all that. My silver linings included getting a lovely young man to carry my box to the car and buying two bags of pixi lilies, one bag of shallots , a Canna Cleopatra bulb and a bag of dahlia bulbs all for ten pence each! I'm hoping they'll keep for next year's gardening club. If I haven't pulled my hair out, lost my marbles, or lost the bulbs by then.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Gardening Woes

I'm feeling a bit despondent about the gardening club at the moment and I'm not sure why.

Well, undoubtedly one of the reasons why is thanks to whoever pulled up a lot of the plants during the recent half-term holidays.

One of the club members discovered the vandalism and replanted them but there were some casualties. I wondered why some lettuces were in the bean bed. It does make me feel a bit What's The Point? If the slugs don't get the plants, vandals will.

There's also no room for a greenhouse/growhouse type thing so makes growing by seed tricky, to say the least. No money for them either. I take plants from home, tomato plants today, and use at the school garden but I haven't the room to grow double of everything and I do so want to grow produce that we might sell to pay for Autumn bulbs, green manure and other stuff I just haven't thought of yet.

I'm also realising that I wouldn't make a very good teacher; the children seem to whip through the work and then want to leave early to go and play and I'm not entirely sure what to do about that. Nor about the requests of "what shall we do now" that are made at least every 30 seconds. I wonder if I should get them working in small groups with a leader?

The allotment's making me grumpy too. It's so scruffy, especially compared to Lovely Plot Lady's. And nothing's growing. Hubby thinks I should give it up and have beds at home but I Will Not Be Beaten. I hope.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

"You Can't Be A Little Bit Pregnant. You Either Are Or You Aren't"

No, not me! Goodness, let's not go there. This was organic gardening guru Bob Flowerdew. Not that he is pregnant either, but he was talking about organic gardening.

I was listening to him on Radio Four's Gardeners' Question Time (gosh, did I just really write that? Snort, I can't believe how old, how like my mother, I'm becoming. And I'm not yet forty....). Anyway, I was listening to my beloved Radio Four (or Radio Snore as it's quaintly nicknamed in this house by other, less discerning people) and I never usually listen to this programme.

That's not for any particular reason - I just don't seek it out. I thought it was Boring. I admit when a lady came on about her aspidistra that is failing to thrive I nearly found myself falling head first into the chocolate birthday cake I was making for my 12-year-old.

But, really, there's loads of chat about veggies. And Bunny's on it. One man asked how he should combat pests on his veggies; get in there early and spray, deal with them when they arrive or just give up and buy his greens at Tesco.

I can see how tempting it is to go for the last option. Honestly, the one thing that could make me give up my allotment (community garden) is pests. So I was interested in what they had to say.

One panelist was very jokey and not particularly helpful but Bunny said if she was in danger of losing a crop, then yes, she would spray. And there are some things, like slug pellets, which have been certified for organic use.

My ears pricked up at this bit. I have been using the "safe to use around children and wildlife and certified organic" blue pellets. I'm not sure they completely eradicate slugs and snails but I'm sure my plants are looking less ravished thanks to them.

But Bob waded in with his organic club rules which state No Organic Certified Slug Pellets. Ever. And his pithy pregnant quote. If that's the case then I am a little bit 'pregnant'. I apparently garden organically "a bit" or, according to him, not at all.

So, am I cheating? Is the only way to get rid of molluscs to remove every. single. one. by. hand? Let me tell you, that is not going to happen. I know about the usual grapefruit, slug pubs, hair, coffee grounds, egg shells route to a slug free plot. I think I'm going to try them all, including those expensive nematode worms. I'm just not sure I'll have room for the veggies after all that.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Do Allotments and Little People Mix?

Or do allotments and babies go together like slugs and lettuce - naturally in theory but in practice a big NO!

One of the reasons I started this blog, among a myriad of very boring ones, was to show it was possible to keep your allotment while busily growing a family. It's something I feel quite passionate about.

I read with a twinge of sadness and a heap of understanding when Jane Perrone, the author of The Allotment Keeper's Handbook, recently wrote about her decision to give up her allotment.

Starting a family is undeniably life-changing but with a lowering of standards (or none at all in my case), a dash of selfishness and a bit of determination I really believe that allotment lovers can hold onto their plots.

This is the time when both could benefit hugely from having an allotment: cheap, organic veggies (good for breastfeeding mums, tired dads and weaning babes); somewhere safe and immersed in nature that's a change of scene from the back garden (change being as good as a rest); a sense of community (vital for mums who can feel isolated) and the chance of a bit of guilt-free peace (essential for sanity saving). Frankly, my allotment is the only space on this planet that I don't have to share and where I selfishly do what I want.

I know how hard it can be; our youngest used to cry when at the plot which I eventually neglected until allotment administrator grumpily threatened to give it to someone else. I shouldn't have let it get into such a state but it was the kick-start I needed. This year's different due partly to increased energy levels and playgroup looming on the horizon.

I found it harder to keep up with the allotment when pregnant. Rewind to a year ago and I'd do things differently - I'd cover half my plot with weed suppressing material or green manures and plant easy veg, brought from garden centres, in the rest. Onions, garlic, strawberries, runner beans, sunflowers, rhubarb and probably a space hogging courgette or two would the absolute most I would grow.

Once baby is here looking after a little one is, I think, easier, especially if you're breastfeeding. A bench, picnic rug, buggy or sling and the book Lia Leendertz's book The Half Hour Allotment are essential.

I know gardening is even easier at home; I'm growing veggies in pots and have lots of seedlings on the go for my containers and the allotment. Doing it this way means I get the best of both worlds - Dressing Gown Gardening and Pottering and Escapism Gardening.

But with the advent of huge waiting lists now at most sites, guilt is bound to set in when the weeds do. Should we be so hard on ourselves? It's not our fault councils are failing to provide enough allotments. And what if it is Mr Jones, on the normally productive end plot, who through no fault of his own is temporarily struggling to maintain his plot this season? Would we demand that he be turfed off or would we cut him some slack?

I know names can always be added to a waiting list a couple of years down the line but I think the satisfaction of Keeping On is immense and not to be underestimated. Just lower expectations and think of visiting the allotment as you would a trip to the park; little and often and heaps more interesting. The early years really do, sadly, go by in a blink. That's the one thing that sustained me during my dark allotment days - things could only get easier, time and energy would become more abundant.

I don't want to elbow the traditional, retired chaps off allotments but I'd love to see an army of mums or dads growing their own on sites, with a babe on a blanket legs wiggling, digging for a better, healthier life.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Cheeky Chicken

Growing your own now seems synonymous with laying your own. Not literally, obviously, but vicariously via a couple of pet chickens. And with the price of eggs these days it can only get more popular.

I read in the Sunday Times yesterday there's a sharp increase in the number of backyard chooks. Jamie Oliver, I recall, was partly responsible. At the moment I like the idea of chickens in theory, or with roast potatoes, but not in all their clucking glory.

While painting a picture of a green, idyllic lifestyle these articles forget to mention a few interesting, possibly downsides, to keeping chickens. Like how they ruin your lawn and herb garden, poo everywhere and entice other, less pleasant visitors to your patch.

We've had hens for years now (what trendsetters we are) and the latest lot have been raised by us thanks to a mate with a broody chicken (which we always name Gladys) a broody coop and some fertilised eggs.

Our chickens have a lovely pen at the back corner of our garden but they're going to be evicted, into what I'm not entirely sure. For their size they're taking up an awful lot of room which has been earmarked as the Children's Corner.

Apart from the eggs there are other benefits to keeping them, I just have trouble recalling what. Ah, yes, they like eating slugs and snails. I especially brought home a bucket of them from the allotment yesterday but they didn't appear to fancy supper, tucked up as they were, so as I'd left it too late the wretched slimy creatures no doubt escaped and are chomping their way through my garden as I type.

Then there is the chicken escapee. I can't tell which one it is but she always gets out of the pen and is truly free-range, roaming the length and breadth of our street. And when she is not doing that she is nesting in my herb patch.

At least she left a present but I'm not sure it was worth all the trampling she did. I'm also not sure what it is about that part of our garden, which happens to be a favourite of mine and is housed in an old sink near the back door. We caught the dog burying a bone in it the other week. ~ Sigh ~ I bet Jamie Oliver never has this trouble.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

I-Spy Sunday

Not much in the way of gardening going on this week. Five children on holiday and a two-year-old's birthday put paid to that! But we have been in the garden a bit. When it's stopped raining.
Let's not mention the allotment. I'm a bit miffed with the allotment. Is it possible not to be happy with a veggie plot? I think so, yes.