Monday, 22 June 2015

Allotment progress

This is how the allotment has developed this year.




The plan had been to carry on with Charles Dowding's No Dig method, where you add a layer of compost or manure on the soil and let the worms do the work of digging it in for you. In my usual fashion I didn't get round to ordering another delivery of cow manure in the Autumn, and given how long the last batch took to breakdown I decided not to get any this spring. This has worked out for the best, as many of the other plot-holders believe the manure is contaminated with pesticides. The hormonal weedkiller used on grassland apparently goes through the cows without causing harm, but contaminates the manure. It may be that the manure I had last year was contaminated, which could explain a lot, but I really hope not. I am trying to grow healthy organic produce, so a hidden dose of chemicals is the last thing I want.


Instead, I have collected some horse manure from my friend Suella, who cares too much about the environment and her horse, than to cover her grazing land with chemicals. It is a peaceful setting, with some friendly conversation, so filling sacks and trugs with manure isn't a job that I mind doing. When I get back to the allotment though, the manure never seems to be enough.


I have had plenty of lovely compost for my garden from the double compost bin I made last year. I want to construct a compost bin made from pallets at the allotment, but I only managed to scrounge 3 pallets before my big car broke down and I need to find some smaller ones to fit in my smaller car. meanwhile the weeds are taking over!

I also have a 'dalek' compost bin, but it is full of ants. At the Composting Workshop held at the Transition Community Allotment a fortnight ago, I found out that this means that my mix is too dry and can be remedied by adding more greens. It was a very useful workshop even though I couldn't stay for it all. My plot has lots of comfrey now, some a gift from Suella last year, and some I found on the new half when I was clearing all the weeds.


I followed Mrs Thrifts recipe and made my first Comfrey Tea to feed my tomato plants. It really stinks, and if you get it on your hands you will need to wash them repeatedly to get rid of the smell. Every time I turned my back the dog was drinking it! Maybe she knows it is full of nutirents.


We have been eating lettuces and spinach for weeks, and it is so nice not to need to buy any from the supermarket. The spring onions are ready too, but I need to find a way to stop them going limp in the fridge. Any ideas?


I bought lots of seed potatoes from the Transition Loughborough Potato Day earlier in the year, and they are looking healthy despite the dog charging through them.


The grapevine that I pruned very hard has survived. The blackcurrant bush also seems to have relished the hard prune and is covered in berries. Plus the little gooseberry bush hidden under all the weeds has a handful of fruit nearly ripe.


I have built a couple of frames for netting, which have now been transferred from protecting the garlic and onions to covering the young brassicas. The garlic, gifted by another plot-holder, has been the first casualty this year, as it has white rot. Most of the other plot-holders seem to have suffered the same fate, but luckily my onions still seem healthy......for now.

I have peas growing in my garden at home where I have never needed to net them from the pesky pigeons. Yet at the allotment I risked leaving them unprotected and of course they have been gobbled. Enough have survived for me to have eaten my first peas today.


My kind neighbour has given me some chickpeas to grow this year. To play things safe I sowed them in 2 separate locations at the allotment and in my garden. The garden ones are doing the best. I can't wait for the soft little pods to grow, though if this cool weather continues I ma not get any.


I am not sure whether I mentioned that I planted some fruit trees, which were a gift from my parents. After lots of reading I decided on a Nashi pear and a sweet eating apple, along with some blueberry bushes and new raspberry canes.



The fruit trees both seem to be doing well and had lots of blossom and baby fruit, most of which I have removed. I surrounded them with bark to try to keep the weeds back, but really there is no chance of keeping them down..


The weeds seem to grow at double the speed that my plants grow so it is a constant battle to keep each area under control once I have cleared it. Plus the areas that I haven't yet managed to clear are now going to seed. I have put out a request on freecycle for chippings as bark is too expensive to cover large areas, but had no response yet. Old carpet is my best weed control for now, until I get on top of things (Will that ever happen?)


Anyway, most of my seedlings, that covered every windowsill for weeks, are planted out now. Just waiting for some more netting to be delivered so the last of the brassicas can go out protected from pigeons and butterflys. Then I can just sit back and wait for them to grow :-) Well..........apart from the watering, weeding, pinching out shoots, feeding, hoeing, tying and harvesting!


Happy growing!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Frantic spring

So I haven't posted anything interesting for a while, because life has just been exhausting and full of breakdowns (but luckily I wasn't one of them!).


It started with my old faithful car breaking down. It was over 20 years old, with over 200,000 miles on the clock, but we had had it for 12 years and it was the most brilliant car. It didn't look much, but a car that can fit 5 people, dog, camping gear and 3 full size bikes inside it with room to spare is really worth its weight in gold........except when it is broken and will cost it's weight in gold to repair. So we bid it a sad farewell :-(


It was swiftly followed by my printer, computer, collapsing shelves in the garage and now the perpetually leaking fridge. In the midst of that the dog had fleas, my son completed his bronze Duke of Edinburgh training expedition and final expedition, my youngest daughter had guide camp and was away for a school trip, and my niece and nephew cashed in their Christmas vouchers for me to take them on a camping trip (an awfully tight squeeze without my old faithful car) and a day at Alton Towers (a week before the terrible crash).


I wasted spent 2 weeks second hand car shopping with darling husband, which really is no fun when you have a very constrained budget, and no car will live up to the one you have just lost, so I was no help at all. Then I had 3 days with no computer, followed by 2 weeks with an irritating temporary fix which meant that I couldn't bear to use it. No work, no blogging, no news. I did a lot of digging at the allotment to release my frustration instead. Now the computer is up and running again but there are a few anomalies.....like I couldn't seem to add any pictures to my posts! Sigh!


Yet, thankfully, here I am on the other side of a frantic spring. Summer is here, the first strawberries are ripe and I have cleared all my windowsills of seedlings (I am not saying that they are all planted yet though). And despite being at the allotment until 10pm for 2 nights this week, and having 2 parents evenings to attend things seem just that little bit calmer..........for now :-)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Pigeon Dilemma



I'm back! Well it seems like I haven't posted much in ages as there just hasn't been a spare minute. Bear's challenge has gone out of the window for another month, although there was some closure on the pigeon front.....


I had the opportunity to go for a walk in Bramcote Park in Nottingham, which is quite lovely despite the background hum of traffic. I chatted with friendly dog walkers, spotted a few familiar wild foods and was just generally enjoying the evening, when there was a 'plop'. I was walking through some trees and something small had fallen out of one of the trees. I turned round to investigate and found a dead pigeon on the ground with a bundle of soft fluffy feathers beside it. The bundle of fluff was a baby pigeon still clearly alive, but with a cracked beak and it must have literally dropped out of the tree just as I walked past.


Dilemma. The parent bird had clearly been killed by a cat or fox ( I am thinking cat, because it wasn't eaten whereas a fox would have had it for dinner). The young pigeon's feathers were not mature enough to fly and it would no doubt die without a parent bird, even if the damaged beak recovered. Why did it plop down next to me?


I could see the nest in the tree and it was too high up for me to reach, but with my heart thumping I grabbed the scared little bird and tried to balance it on a lower branch in the hope it would climb back. Plop!

Now I stood for several minutes thinking this through. There was absolutely no way I could save this bird or any hope it would survive. I have saved baby blue tits before, but they had fully fledged wings that had got wet in a shower, so lifting them into a hawthorn bush until their wings dried out meant they had a good chance of surviving. This pigeon had none. Plus they are classified as a pest (for good reason) so you are not supposed to rescue them.


Could I kill it? It was clearly going to die anyway, so a quick bash with a stick would save it from suffering. I still couldn't do it and just walked away. Let nature take its course and no doubt something will come and eat it.....just not me.


And so the great pigeon question has been answered - roadkill I can just about handle. Killing is something I am still not ready for. It does seem rather pathetic, but I am being honest with myself, which would be fine if I was a vegetarian, and wasn't expecting other people to kill animals for me to eat.

I have watched some of 'The Island with Bear Grylls' series 2, where a group of women and a group of men were left to survive on separate desert islands. It was interesting to see the women struggling with the dilemma of killing their adopted pet piglets (episode 6), which they aptly named Sage and Onion. In a situation where you are starving hungry your survival instinct clearly kicks in and they describe not thinking of them as animals anymore, just food. If you think you have the strength for this then you can apply for the next series here.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

I vote for change

Tomorrow is election day in the UK. It is funny how quickly it is here and my complete lack of anticipation this time. What is there to be excited about? Will May the 8th be any different from May 6th?

I started watching The Trews - the news if it were true. I admit that I used to find it extremely uncomfortable to watch Russell Brand, but on his own for 10 minutes he seems a lot calmer and he has been saying the kind of things that I want to hear. I even watched his new film with Michael Winterbottom The Emperors New Clothes that came out recently. It was really hard to track down a cinema to watch it in, so in the end we paid Amazon and watched it at home. (It is all about not supporting big corporations who don't pay tax like....Amazon!)

Honestly, it is brilliant and well worth watching. Like Russell says, there is nothing in the film that you don't already know, but he puts it across in a way that is powerful, easy to understand and with humour, especially when he drives around in his 'Shop a Banker' van. (In this meaning 'shop' a banker means to grass them up and turn them in to the police, and mimics the government's campaign after the London riots when they used 'Shop a Looter' vans to try to catch people who had stolen a pair of trainers, rather than bankers who cost the country millions.)

One of the vans showing pictures of suspects

Well I was coming round to Russell's idea, that "things can change" and his stance on voting was not to vote for anyone because they are all the same and none of them stand for real change. For instance the labour party didn't regulate the banks or prosecute any bankers before they lost the last election and the conservative and liberal democrat coalition hasn't acted to rectify this since. They all support the bankers, they all listen to big corporations and put their interests above working people and they are all for austerity measures.

I think Russell has lost sight of this recently and has been charmed by Ed Miliband into advocating voting for his party if you are not in Scotland or Brighton! The Ed Miliband interview looked like Russell was hypnotised, but for the rest of us it was just Ed Miliband saying the same non-committal political spiel that he used in the TV debates.

I haven't followed much of the politics, but I watched the TV debate with 7 candidates, and although we don't usually vote for the same parties, both hubby and I agreed that we would both vote SNP (Scottish National Party) if we could, which of course we can't.... unless we move to Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon had a clear strong message that was anti-austerity, abolishing tuition fees and the bedroom tax - the kind of policies I would really want and expect to see labour supporting. Plus she came across as a strong determined women. There would be no more childish name-calling and bullying in parliament if she was in charge, which I detest from our current prime minister.

I will NEVER vote for conservative, not because of David Cameron or any of their policies, but because I remember growing up during Margaret Thatcher's government. Neither will I ever vote for labour after Tony Blair took us to war with Iraq based on lies. People seem to have forgotten that the labour party didn't regulate the banks and continued privatisation with underhand PFI schemes. They didn't build more council houses, strengthen the unions, or re-nationalise anything. They are not the same party that Clement Attlee led after the war. They are just slightly more left than the conservatives. (As the Green party political broadcast points out)

I read the Liberal Democrats manifesto last time round and it sounded good, so they got my vote. However Nick Clegg completely sold out to the conservatives just to be in a coalition government. There is no point being part of a coalition government if you are not going to stand up for the policies that matter to you. The real joke is that Nick Clegg still thinks that they did. Yes - they have been added to my never-forget-not-to-vote-for-them list!

I am fairly certain that they will be part of a new government though, because they have shown how weak they are. If I was going to try to make a coalition with another party, I would choose one that will go along with everything I say, and the Liberal Democrats have proved they fit this role perfectly!

Thinking about coalitions made me wonder whether Russell was onto something in suggesting voting for labour. For English voters we can't vote for the SNP, but if we want to see them as part of a coalition then really the most likely scenario would be if labour won marginally more seats than the conservatives, though not a full majority. Is there any possibility of SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green party forming a coalition? Wouldn't that be amazing?

I think Russell was wrong to throw his weight behind labour. He apparently had 10 million followers and if he had supported the Green party or Left Unity that could have made a difference and that could have brought these parties onto the playing field, ready for a Syriza style victory at the following election. Even supporting the "don't vote because they are all a bunch of liars" stance is better than suggesting more of the same. So much for wanting a revolution.

I want a revolution. For the first time I have a local green candidate that I can vote for, called Mark Sissons, who has written a book that sounds rather interesting. I am voting for the green party, because they are anti-austerity, anti-trident and support environmental policies that may yet mean that the planet is still inhabitable for future generations. I am voting Green for what they stand for and my vote still counts even if the Green party don't win the seat, because my vote is about being true to my feelings and views. I vote for change.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Tastier Than Bear's 6: Meat on the Menu

A lot has been happening the last few weeks, and I have a so much to blog about, yet very little time. I left you all on a cliff-hanger over 2 weeks ago with my quest to kill a pigeon, so it seems only fair that I start with an update on my foraging antics.

Well................I still haven't killed a pigeon, though I bought Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'The River Cottage Cookbook' (at the carboot sale for 50p) which follows his early antics at River Cottage. He has a whole chapter on Hedgerow, including wild meats, and is informative on preparing pigeon, rabbit, squirrel and ......snails (Hugh and Bear would get on a treat!). So having read more on the subject, I am feeling much more prepared for the pigeon-caught-in-a-net day to arrive.

 
But all was not lost on the meat front. Driving along a country lane I spotted some road kill. It was a cock pheasant and looked in very good condition, considering it had been hit by a car. I quickly jumped out and having some compost sacks in the boot, I stuffed the pheasant inside one and drove off full of excitement. This was it - true foraging with my first road kill dinner!

I was heading to collect horse manure from Suella, who is always very generous at sharing her horses' produce and there was quite a gathering. So I consulted with the wise Suella, Janet and Martha on my road kill and the first question was 'Is it still warm?' Why did that not occur to me? I had managed to bag the carcass without touching it, so I tentatively reached inside and yes it was warm, so very fresh. It was a bit smelly, but as they pointed out 'All living creatures are smelly'. Here it is.


Note to self: Don't stuff it in a bag next time, lay it flat! Nice how David Cameron is thoughtfully positioned to be consulting with my dead pheasant ;-)


Hugh doesn't mention pheasant, so I checked out some simple techniques on YouTube for removing feathers and gutting, but they all had shot birds whereas mine was already a bit damaged with guts spilling out. I was quickly losing my nerve, as a pre-packaged chicken doesn't come with the same smell, feathers, feet and undigested corn falling out. So I just dived in and cut out the breasts and quickly discarded the rest. I know it was such a waste, but I was overcome with squeamishness. Bear just rips off the head, feet and wings and skewers it for the fire, but I am not up to that yet (if ever).


I calmed down once faced with just the 2 pieces of breast and chopped them up for a stir-fry. I then dashed out to the woods (not shops) for some accompaniments - more wild garlic, hogweed shoots and stinging nettles.


I decided to break the rules and use some olive oil for frying as it is much easier than to keep adding dribbles of water. The hogweed shoots are absolutely delicious fried and were the best tasting part of the meal still. I may have forgotten to mention that I ate them last week on a bed of dandelion leaf salad, and they are so much more delicious fried than steamed.


The pheasant wasn't gamey (probably because it was too fresh), but rather plain and overcooked. I had thought to cook the breasts whole, so that I could leave them pink in the middle, but this was road kill and overcooked seemed a far safer option, if somewhat less appetising.


So I have eaten foraged meat and I survived ;-) There may be more meat menus to follow, if I can catch one of those darn pigeons.