Monday, November 17, 2008

The good, the bad and the ugly

Yesterday was a perfect day for a spot of gardening. The day was mild with a glint of winter sun. We spent a few hours digging over three of the beds and generally tidying the plot up a bit. A pair of robins kept us company, darting between the hedges excited by the prospect of the worms and grubs revealed by our efforts. I decided to use a soil conditioner before covering over the beds for the winter. It was only after I had liberally applied trowelfuls of bagged organic rotted manure, that I noticed that there were white lavae in the mix. A quick spot of research when I got home revealed that these are the lavae of the onion fly who often lay their eggs in fresh manure. Luckily I didn't spread them on the winter sown onions or the leeks but I have still unwittingly broadcast them quite widely. I hope that they don't make their way over to the onions....

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Don't look now

There seem to be a lot of spiders on the lottie at the moment. Groups of them were scurrying around the wood boards edging the beds and in-between the piles of dried hedge clippings.

September is breeding time for spiders so males are often spotted out on the prowl. However, you're unlikely to see one as big as 'La Princess' which stalked through Liverpool this weekend as part of the Capital of Culture celebrations. This 50 foot, 37 tonne creation by the company La Machine certainly had the wow factor. A surreal delight we watched as it walked though a main shopping area and battled with huge flame throwers whilst being followed by accompanying musicians hoisted in the air on cherry pickers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

No such thing as a free lunch?

With the so-called ‘credit crunch’ upon us we might all be thinking of new ways to tighten our belts. Food prices have really increased of late and waiting lists for allotment plots have begun to lengthen proportionally. The possibility of growing your own organic veg has tempted many.

Walking across a field last week I was reminded that we don’t even have to get planting in order to have a meal from the soil. On the banks of a stream, fed by a spring, some healthy looking watercress plants were thriving. There is lots of free food available in hedgerows and fields for those who know where to look. A whole host of wild plants can be eaten from dandelion and nettle to hedgerow blackberries and wild garlic. I have to admit that so far I have stuck to eating what I have grown myself, a bit concerned about misidentifying a wild plant. What about you?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

summer stripes

The flowering herbs in the back yard have created quite a buzz. It still amazes me how you can so easily attract beneficial insects with just a few plants and flowers in a city yard. There seems to be around eight or so bumble bees on the herbs at any one time, collecting nectar. I'm reading 'A World Without Bees' at the moment which helps to explain some of the behaviour. Here's what I have learnt:
1. Bumble bees prefer purple flowers while honeybees have a preference for white blooms
2. Honeybees are great pollenators because they will keep making thousands of visits to one flower species at a time until they have used up all it's nectar.
3. The antennae on a bee's head allow it to smell in stereo.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Heavy plant crossing

We had a grand day out on Sunday with a trip to the Tatton Park Flower Show. I must be showing my age as I haven't made it to a music festival this year but got really excited about going to the RHS event. The show gardens were top notch - I particularly liked the 'East meets West' garden design by Urban Vision for it's simplicity and calmness. Ness Botanic Gardens' back to back garden for bees also got my vote. It was designed to show the important contribution bees make to our gardens and was packed with climbing beans, wildflowers and an apiary hive.

Just as we were starting to flag with the heat and our fill of ice cream, they announced the beginning of the plant sale. Everyone's inner bargain hunter came out and there was a it of a frenzy at the plant stands. Came home laden down with vegetable plants and herbs.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tea's up

Dug up the first lot of new potatoes today. I was late planting them so they are rather small - but perfectly formed. Had our first allotment meal of the year: roast potatoes, fried courgettes, with spinach and chard in a parsley and sage sauce. Delish!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

milk bar

Some of the Nasturtiums are being attacked by blackfly with a little help from their friends. The ants are acting as guardians while also 'milking' the aphids for their sticky dew. Here's one caught in the act.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

fresh fruit sundae

The sky glowered and there were strong winds throwing the gulls off-track as they flew over the allotments today. Still, the rain kept off. I planted 30 slender leeks (not as thick as a pencil yet) and earthed up the potatoes. The potato plants of my surrounding plot holders are tall and in flower. I was late getting mine in the ground so they have a while to catch up but hopefully we will get a late harvest. The raspberry bushes were weighted down with ripe fruit and a couple of the onions were ready to pull. These are the rewards for a bit of effort on the weekend.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Life cycles

After all that ladybird activity (ahem) last month there are now ladybird lavae crawling around the allotment and hatching out ready for the next cycle...

Thursday, June 05, 2008


I was clearing up around the plants in the yard today and found this little snail had hidden inside an old snail shell in order to keep out of the sun's rays. Talk about re-cycling...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

You're it!

I've been tagged by Fresh as a Daisy. These are the rules for tagging:

Link to the person who tagged you.
Post the rules on your blog.
Write six random things about yourself.
Tag six people at the end of your post linking to their blog.
Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Six things about me:

1. I love the fact that gardening is all about choices and possibilities
2. I am not a morning person
3. I am scared of spiders
4. I have a perfectly worked out plan of how my garden will look but just never get the time to realise the ambition
5. I think that cucumber is the devil's food
6. I reckon that marigolds are under-rated

I'm going to tag:
Courgettes and Fennel
Fork it...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Who loves the sun

Spring is definitely here. The weather is warming up, the grass is growing, the flowers are blooming and the ladybirds are getting frisky.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The story of the blues

There is something magic about the appearance of bluebells each year. The allotment is rimmed with them; growing in shade and security on the perimeter of the plots. While I thought all bluebells were one and the same, it turns out that in the UK there are commonly three different types of flower.

There are two common species - the native bluebell and the Spanish bluebell as well as a hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana) which seems to becoming more common. Some are worried that, with so many hybrid plants around, the native plant will go into decline. There is not enough research yet to prove whether this is happening. The Natural History Museum is asking people to help. By recording what type of bluebells are growing in your area they can build up a national picture of the different plant species.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Heads up

Some of the squash seeds sown a week or so ago are starting to emerge as seedlings. Last year’s weather meant that none of my squash or courgettes made it through so we’ll have to see how this one does. This is a spaghetti squash, whose flesh when cooked resembles thin strands of spaghetti. It can be oven baked and then finished off with some olive oil, salt and pepper. It can also be used in sweet recipes. In Portugal the squash is often made into a jam which can be used to fill cakes. Here’s a recipe for the jam I found on the Food Network site:

2 pounds spaghetti squash
1 pound granulated sugar
2 cups water

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Break the squash on the ground (if you use a knife you will discolour the flesh). Wash the squash pieces and remove the seeds from the centre using your hands. Place the squash pieces in the boiling water and cook until the skin comes apart.

Remove from the water and place in an ice bath. Using your hands, separate the skin from the flesh and discard any seeds. Remove the flesh and place in shallow bowl. Again with your fingers, separate the flesh into threads. Rinse the threads under cool water and drain well.

In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture is thick. Add the squash and continue to cook until the entire mixture is thick and most of liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl and cool completely.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Idle chit chat

I've been a bit tardy in buying seed potatoes this year. Traditionally, first earlies are planted on Good Friday but I hadn't even got round to getting my order in. I'm trying Pentland Javelin this year and have just put a couple of dozen tubers out to chit. They are supposed to have a good level of resistance to eel worm which was a bit of a problem on the plot last year. Easter was early this year so perhaps the delay of a few weeks won't harm too much...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Clearing up

There is nothing quite so satisfying as wrenching a bramble root out of the soil. One side of the plot was overtaken last summer with the hoops and swirls of wild blackberries. The blackbirds had a feast but it meant that two of the small beds were effectively cordoned off. Now is the time to gain ground again. The prickly stems have been cut and today I dug out three big roots. With runners branching out in different directions I don't think this will be the end of the story but I have got the beds back for now.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bright Lights, Big City Launch

This weekend saw the launch of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture. I crowded down with the estimated 40,000 others to see the 'people's opening': dancing cranes, miming guitarists on the city roofs, acrobats, fireworks, a shipping container full of local celebrities, video projections, live music from The Wombats and an appearance from Ringo. The published programme of events looks great for the forthcoming year so lots to look forward to.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Taking the decorations down

It's twelfth night so time to take down the Christmas decorations and re-cycle the tree. Time to make a few resolutions too. As always, working on the allotment is on the list. Hopefully this year will be more productive - weather and time permitting. Let's just see. Gardening is all about making plans and then being pleasantly surprised when they actually work out.