That other creative project…it’s live

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Playing with plant pots: tales from the allotment

I once read that if you were going to write, you should write about what you love. I took this as inspiration to put pen to pen, finger to keyboard and write. As much as I like Star Trek, Shakespeare and the Whedon-verse, I am not about to write any of those on huge worldwide scale. Also they have all, strangely enough, been done.

Writing this blog is incredibly enjoyable, and I will continue to do so for as long as I can. What I had in mind, was to write a book. Or more specifically, an ebook. So I set myself a challenge. To write one by Christmas. And about my experiences on the allotment, of growing my own, and to build on what I have learned and documented through this blog. This blog seemed a good starting place as any,

In earnest, I tried to think about what I wanted to write. A case of writing down in ink on paper a list of all I could think of from the top of my head. The list kept growing, and I ended reminiscing to an extent about everything that I have learned about in the last six years. Turns out that there was a lot the plot had taught me.

The deadline had been Christmas, and I didn’t want it to be a huge great big tome. Even if it was an ebook. Ebooks are meant to be a lengthy great big treatise.

See that link at the top; that’s the ebook.

tomato times…again

We have tomato updates.

Whilst the inside of the poly tunnel seems as though it is incubating an army of triffids, the fruit are not really going red. They are hanging around and fairly green. I have harvested a few and decided that as usual-this seems to be an annual dilemma-these are going to go onto the window sill. Daily calls of “PUNAM YOUR TOMATOES ARE TURNING!” seem to have done their job. Mum has been monitoring them daily. What you see is a green shouldered marmande and a fairly generic moneymaker. The rest are a mixture of yellow cream sausage and other money makers.

Spirit infusion and Spuds

After a month in the dark, the spirit infusions were ready to decant. These infusions involve home grown raspberries and gooseberries. The raspberries broke down and produced  a lovely bright pink infusion. The gooseberries were still quite firm, and hadn’t broken down so much. Both however produced a decent level of end product. Both had been made with 70 cl of spirit. I managed to get 2x 250 bottles from each kilner jar, so I am pretty happy. The gooseberry infusion is rather like drinking a spiced curry.

There there were spuds. Above you see a 10kg bucket of pink fir apple potatoes. This is the first time I sown and grown this variety, and I have to say that I am rather impressed. We managed to get just under 10kg from half a 1mx2m bed. There is still that half a bed and another 1mx1m bed left to harvest. These a beautifully odd shaped potato, and we did get a few, ahem, rude shaped ones. I had to warn my mum in advanced.

Those were okay, then came these.

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They look a bit scabby. I forget now, what these are now. Perhaps lady balfour or interntional kidney. I think they have been left in the soil a little bit too long. They will be okay, after heavy peeling. I refuse to say that growing things is always going to be rainbows and butterflies. It won’t be.

Colouring for grown ups: Psychology with horticultural tendencies

Being a teacher of Psychology with horticultural tendencies, when those two worlds collide, my ears tend to prick up. Last month, I was part of the Annual conference of Teachers of Psychology and delivered a workshop about mental health and the use of horticultural/eco-therapy. The focus was on how teachers might use gardening as a means to improve their mental health. Whatever way you might argue the toss, teaching is by far one of the most stressful jobs on the planet. After six years as an educator of sorts, I can safely say that such a statement is true.

On that Sunday morning, I was very fortunate that a lovely group of delegates attended. I had been pacing up and down for a good few weeks before hand, hoping that they would! And the first thing that we did, was a spot of colouring.

It started out as being something innocuous, I’d come across a colouring book called ‘Glorious Gardens’; a colouring book for adults. I picked  it up, this was going into my workshop. I would even have crayons. The delegates liked it, they rather enjoyed the colouring book and it dovetailed into the theme of the workshop.

What I didn’t realise is that I was jumping onto a bandwagon that was already rolling. I was holding onto the bumper as it went past me.

There was even a BBC news report.

Colouring is a big thing! Whilst we think that this is an activity for children, there are actually no explicit rules that suggest that adults shouldn’t do it. Perhaps we grow into adults and find other more pressing things to occupy our time.

Needless to say, I have jumped on the bandwagon. There is research evidence out there, that suggests a link to mental health, positive psychology and mindfulness. I am, of course, going to be a little biased, being a Psychology teacher. It does make sense to me, and there are cases where older adults with vascular dementias are supported with the use of colouring.

In the report above, a lady name Johanna Basford is mentioned. One of her books is in the gallery above is her, as well the ‘Glorious Gardens’ one.

You might assume that colouring is simple. How many of us have seen children pick up a crayon and colour with their colouring books? Their grip may vary developmentally from spear to pincer as they grow, and their colouring space will be larger for visuo-spatial recognition Makes sense to me, and it’s very difficult for most children to stay within the lines. It’s difficult as an adult too, I assure you. Both of the books are very intricate in places. I also didn’t have the best quality pencils or crayons, and I rather like the idea of felt tips and fine liners. As an adult, there is precision.

In the last week, I have been very fortunate to have made windows to colour. I quite like. I did find it difficult to let go of the rules that we as adults use to guide our lives. We all have schema, social scripts, that allow us to negotiate the world around us. Rules and regulations that govern what we do, how and to an extent, why.

Only in a colouring book, would you therefore have blue flowers and blue leaves. The closest blue plant I have, is a lilac rose, and not remotely blue as we would expect. Even then, I was thinking about the flowers and colours on the plot. Seeing things in a context, so as to make sense is fairly useful.

The process does take a bit of focus and a lack of it at the same time. On one hand, you are trying to colour, stay within the lines. On the other, you can clear your mind. Things that would ordinarily clog up your mind, dissipate away. Something rather useful, given how mental health is becoming more and more visible in the public forum.

I like the colouring, I really do. Try it. You’ll never look at your eyeliner in quite the same way again.

…since not everyone is going to have felt tips in their handbags.

Plot Productivity Part three-Early August

We are well into squash season, so have had three marrows in ten days. This morning, ma refused point blank to cook another one. I don’t blame her. There is only so much curried marrow you can eat or freeze. Courgettes are also making a surge. There are yellow ones starting to get bigger.

The climbing french beans have kicked in, and the scarlet emperor runner beans are starting to form pods. Ma missed them whilst she was digging, so I have harvested quite a handful. The chillies are ticking over, but the super special are the superhots. What you see are orange habaneros, I also have pumpkin habaneros fruiting. Unripe chillies and things are being sent to the window sill for ripening.

Plot Productivity Part two- Early August

The poly tunnel is burgeoning with triffid like tomatoes, chillies and aubergines. The tomatoes have had to be defoliated and regularly; they have been become very very leafy. They are being fed, but not every day, with watering more regular. What I have noticed is that since I have been defoliating, there have been more yellow fruit. In defoliating, two fruits ended up coming away in my hands. These are marmande and cream sausage tomatoes.

I have harvested half a crop of blueberries. These are a mixture of darrow and blue jay berries. The blue jay are smaller, with the darrow being large and quite fat. Both bushes are cropping for the first time, and are grown in large pots. I look forwards to the additional crop to be had from the darrow bush.

And we have our first aubergine flower! I nearly missed it amongst the foliage, but did make sure it was tickled today. I had though the plant would be a little bigger, they were last year in the open ground. So we shall see if the plant actually crops.

Plot Productivity Part one-Early August

The last week has seen teaching finish and exams start; so I have been a little busy with a real life beyond the plot. With evenings and weekends, I have spent some time defoliating the very leafy tomatoes in the poly. Beyond that, parents have been along to the plot. Ma is on her summer school holidays, so has been taking up weeds and digging over as she does anyway. Just with a bit more gusto. I get waken in the morning, with the words “Punam, I am going over road for an hour. back in a bit.” Two hours later, she’ll turn up at home for tea time.

Dad’s engineering training was utilised this week. I am too short to reach the top of the bean wig wams, I have decided to put a horizontal cane between the wig wams to maximise growing. So Dad helped to beam them.

Then he noticed squashes trailing up canes. He decided that I had done it wrong-not sure about the right way and that I shouldn’t use black string-luckily I had gardening twine. So decided to construct some scaffolding for the burgeoning squashes.

My Sunflowers had doing well, lots of blooms appearing. Allowing bumble bees to come by and get a bit intoxicated.

Preserving and progress

Rain has stopped play today, it’s grey and grim outside. The perfect opportunity to take stock of what is happening on the plot. Means I can update you on the blog, also work on another creative project. A project that builds on the blog actually, none too dissimilar and to be made public later on this year. Let’s just that whilst the blog is updated as and when I have something to share; the creative project is something of a summative assessment of all plot based learning experiences. That is a story for another day though.

So what has been happening this week?

The chillies are cropping weekly, and with the hungarian hot wax chillies loitering on the window sill I wanted to use the constructively. Mum’s been using them in her kitchen as per usual. They’ve gone into assorted Indian dishes, and even the odd fenugreek stuffed chappati. That is after all what they were grown for. The same goes for the harvested garlic crop.

The plums in the pan aren’t mine, not sure where they are from. I fancied making a jelly, and this is somewhat popular amongst friends and colleagues. I was rather traumatised emptying the jelly bag of the purple pulp; it didn’t look particularly nice. It looked as though it belonged on a medical ward. The juice for the jelly was a wonderful claret colour, and that meant wiping down all the surfaces onto which it dripped.

Chillies and garlic also went into a chutney, and I even did an experiment. I found a recipe for piccalilli and have tried this for the first time. I think its a bit mellow and probably needs more a kick; however it awaits taste testers.

Courgettes have started to crop; no thanks to the confused weather. There are other squashes and crops starting to come through too.

The ghost rider pumpkin is starting to sprawl out with its dinner plate sized leaves. Spotted a few babies, that may or may not have been pollinated. With the scarlet emperor beans in full flower, the climbing french beans have started to form gangly pods.

Garlic 2015: The result @TheGarlicFarm

The garlic is up. All of it. Both raised beds have now been emptied of the overwintering alliums, and I have not been disappointed. I have been trying to grow garlic now for five years. Over that time, there have varying levels of success. And then there was this years crop. This has to be by far the best garlic harvest that I have had for a long time. The biggest of the bulbs are huge compared to those harvested in the past. And they are rather garlick-y to smell too!

All drying out to be used in the coming weeks.

The Garlic Farm. Try it.

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