All posts by horticultural 'Obbit

Chronicling the mis-adventures of a would be allotmenteer. Author of 'Playing with Plant pots: Tales from the Allotment' Available on Amazon in ebook and paperback http://amzn.to/1UvWUkb (paperback) http://amzn.to/1QRgVBZ (Ebook) Full buy links at www.horticulturalhobbit.com/books

Behind the Scenes: A book and beyond

 

Well, hello, everyone. It’s been a while. In fact, it’s been a very long while.

Over the last few days, the blog has been on my mind a great deal.

The last time that I checked in, I had been spending a great deal of time of the allotment. The weather was good; Britain was not only in the grip of a pandemic, but also a heatwave. I was able to go to the plot, and do a fair bit. I had dug over the beds, and even sown seeds.

Then life became busy, with my counselling practice and teaching. It has been a very fast, very busy ten weeks and my feet have bare touched the ground.

So, this week, I am playing catch up.  I am also trying to have a rest, by shifting down a gear. I am trying to get some semblance of balance. I did have a fair dose of allotment guilt; a lot of sadness, actually. I popped down to the plot, to see how the plot had changed and to cut some roses. This, in itself, was a very grounding process. I even found some tomatoes. This was much needed. A bit of pottering, smelling the roses, to become grounded.

Social distancing still exists, and quite rightly so. And when not able to go the plot-there has been that much rain, when the sun isn’t shining. I’ve been otherwise occupied, beyond working and counselling.

Socks.

Yes, at the beginning of lockdown, I learned how to knit socks. I started with flat needles, and have since graduated to circular needles. These, I do believe, make the process, easier. It is also a lovely opportunity to relax, experience mindfulness. To ground myself, and do something that isn’t energetically demanding; is wonderfully calming and therapeutic. As such, I now have four pairs of needles with as many cast on socks. As you can see, this are not boring socks. Colourful and comfy, I’m really very proud of my creations. I have enough wool now, to be really quite busy. It is really quite easy, to be seduced by pretty yarn. And the socks are all mine; there is no one to inflict them upon.

Talking of creations. There is a new writing project on the desk. All being well, that will be released next year. This has already spent a year in the pipeline, and is very different to what I’ve already written. A series of short stories, all inspired by the City of Birmingham. You’ll have to watch this space, for further details.

Movement

 

I have beans! For now!

I’ve seen allotment neighbors lose theirs to frosts. Luckily, I’d only just sown mine. In fact, I’ve also sown Blue Lake Climbing french beans too. Just waiting for those to come through.

The last I’d wrote, I had dug over raised beds. I’ve since broadcast sown lots of spinach, chard, carrots and even some lettuce. Trying to keep on top of regular watering, so that these might germinate. The weather is wonderfully warm at the moment. This does does mean that such seeds may not come off; they like cooler seasons. But keeping the soil cool might just work.

There is more weed clearing required on the soft fruit quadrant where the raspberries and currants run rampant. This is where I will be focusing, to get rid of what is years and years of weeds, before digging over. The plan is to then sow bee friendly blooms.

Overcoming Allotment shame

Bear with me, I have allotment ouchies.

I’m sat here, thinking about each and every muscle twang. When I walk, I am slow; even my baby toes throb in protest.

Yesterday and today, I have spent time on the allotment. All within the Social Distancing guidelines, I assure you.

Time that has been long over due. The Lockdown, has brought with it a new lens through which the world can be seen. Life has definitely changed.

Over the last seven weeks.  I have spent most of my days at my desk. I have taught from my desk. I counsel from desk too.  I have found it challenging to go out, beyond to the supermarket, to get fresh air, to get exercise. To ground myself, I guess. Brief windows in teaching and counselling have meant popping out into the garden, sniffing the camellias whilst nursing a cuppa before going back to work.

Something changed this week. I had enough, and made a change. I made the decision to step away from my desk, to be there only for teaching and counselling and go to the allotment.

(I’ve also had a laptop crisis; there had to be a very panicked repair. I hadn’t back it up, so this bit is genuinely Mea Culpa. Years of allotment images have been wiped as it went for repair. I’m okay with it; saddened and angry, but I look forward to taking new photos, making new allotment memories.)

(I’m not sat at my desk, writing this.)

 

me

For the last two months, I have been turning things over in my head. Why haven’t I gone, other than being busy?

This is where the counselling training starts to illuminate things.

I love my allotment, it’s been epic. It has been productive, there has been plot produce, and untold joy at so much. So when life got busy. and my time on the plot become less, there was a disconnect. I’ve been saying for a long time, that I would go back.

Alas, it was all very overwhelming. There have been many attempts weed, cover, potter. Nothing felt right. Nothing, felt connected or grounding. It was all very overwhelming; it still is, sat here writing.

And yet today, I have allotment ouchies.

I have spent today, yesterday, digging over raised beds. Raised beds,  I have a few.  Nine. Nine raised beds have had weed coverage pulled away, put into another bed to form a lasagne bed. There are two beds, that need faffing around with. There has been an abundance of apple blossom on the plot. The Braeburn apple tree, has been propped up as it bends over backwards. There is a promise of a bumper harvest.

I wandered through my rose bushes, tying in, typing up as I anticipate bouquets. Bouquets that right now, sound and feel like a Hallelujah Chorus in the distance.

 

My spade was picked up; I hate digging. But damn, my spade is good. It cuts through heavy clay like a hot knife through butter. Nine beds were turned over, clods broken up. I was something of a woman possessed really. Today, I’ve certainly been in second gear, rather than fifth. I took my time today.

I now have bare earth to play with. I’ve yet to sow any seeds, or find plants. That is going to be on my mind, my agenda in the next week or so. Last year, I grew a small gang of chillies. I’ve yet to sow a single seed. I’d quite like to sow some tomatoes, but it might be a little late.

So how does the title of this post fit?

There’s been incongruence, fear and a shame at having let the plot slide.

And I didn’t want to feel that way any longer. The plot is in my hands, I have the power to change it.

All those conditions of worth; the feeling that my plot wasn’t good enough. The introjects, of what a good plot should be. The slightly askew locus of evaluation, that the plot wasn’t in my hands. There has been overwhelming fear to not share the plot, to take anyone there or to even speak about it to anyone.

Here’s to change and having autonomy to do what I can.

I’m lucky, that for the most part, I have supportive allotment neighbours. There is the odd comment, which can be barbed. At times, that has hurt, cheesed me off and compounded not being able to do anything. There has been sadness, wounding pain at pitiful looks and comments that could only be politely ignored for some time.

There was joyfulness in what I’ve been doing. All right, sweaty, dirty and dehydrating, but I felt good doing it. I had, have, a plan. I need to, want to plan things into those beds. I’ve rummaged in my loldean timber seedbox, to find some bits and pieces. A few dwarf beans have been direct sown, some spinach and chard broadcast sown. This is all very tentative, I have no idea if that will work. It’s been a very long time since I’ve done that.

It was possible, for me to reconnect with the allotment plot.  I had my headphones on, my water bottle. To be honest, I put my head down, and did what I had to do. I don’t compare my plot to those of others; I never have. I like that it’s different, that it’s mine and I do what I can with it.

I also know what has been. How it took shape, all the hard work that has gone into it. All the goodness that has come from it.

I shall take the small victories, of having dug over raised beds.

Even if I am going to creak for days…..

Runners and Riders…beans

Let’s talk beans.

Runner beans and Climbing French Beans.

Runner beans often get a bad press; for being stringy, for being confusing, and not knowing what to do with them. Climbing French Beans, get ignored.

I like both, I think they are both equitable for growing and need not be confusing in the least.

You can sow these now, in yoghurt pots or cut down pop bottles. Make sure the compost is moist not soaking damp; ensure the containers do have some form of drainage. Otherwise your seeds will too cold, damp and simply rot away.

(That last one, is probably a good science lesson to do with kids. They can see the development of the root system amongst other things.)

They do and will grow quickly, and will need to be hardened off before you plant them outside. This means to acclimatize the plants to the cooler conditions outside. Ideally, they should be planted outside once the frost window has closed. Here in England, that doesn’t happen til the end of May-the late May Bank Holiday, to be precise.

I’ve grown runner beans in pots, so this is possible. As well as planting in open ground. This will involve making tripods or Rugby-post structures to support the plants as they grow.  More often than not, the variety sown tends to be Scarlet Emperor. Think the Climbing French Beans were called Cobra…well, they do snake….

Runner beans and climbing beans are rapid growers. Once settled in position, they will keep going to the early autumn if conditions allow. They will need to be watered well when the temperature rises and the summer is full flow.

(That, could actually happen.)

The more you pick the ready beans, the more you will get. Start from the bottom and work upwards to get a steady crop that isn’t over ripe.

And what exactly do you do with them?

Runners, can be chutneyed, or cooked with potatoes, spices and potatoes. That’s how we have them at home. Chop them up, saute with onions, garlic, ginger and some chopped tomatoes. Add the contents of your masala tin to experiment as required.

Climbing Beans can be used in the same way, but are probably best steamed or cooked with butter, and dash of seasoning.

Yellow croppers!

 

 

I had a thought, about yellow croppers.

And the one thing, that snow-balled from that, was chutney. Hot yellow sun chutney actually.

To think that I first made this years ago, but let’s think about the core constituents. Most of which were sown and grown on the allotment.

And since lots of people are looking at growing food in their gardens and green spaces, I thought that this might be an interesting reflection.

First things first. The yellow tomatoes. You’ll be hard-pressed to find these in a supermarket, or even a local fruit and veg market. There are many different varieties of yellow tomatoes out there; many of which are heritage varieties. Varieties that have historically been grown at home, on allotments, but not necessarily commercially. I’ve grown sun gold and cream sausage and these have been really abundant croppers.

There are options beyond red tomatoes!

Yellow peppers, are fun to grow. I’ve always grown them so that they are green, but yellow ones are possible.

Courgettes. Yellow ones. They do exist before green ones. And generally one or two plants are enough. Don’t sow too many! Else you won’t be able to give them away for love nor money. These do make a change; everyone grows courgettes and particularly green ones. There are standard shaped courgettes, but you can also try the space-ship, patty pan one varieties that can also be used to get some variety.

Yellow ones are quirky, and will make your ratatouille more interesting. If you salt these, as you would with any courgette for chutney, these will add a bit of variety.

You can chutney all of this, or you can make a spiced Indian dish.

 

seeds to sow…Fenugreek

….on the window sill, perhaps?

At the moment, on the window sill, there are small punnets filled with compost and seeds. One, contains fenugreek. The other, is starting to fill up with little gem lettuce.

In the warm conservatory, Mum has sown runner beans from seeds saved last year.

The Fenugreek.

A leafy, bitter herb, that adds both heat and spice to your dish. Can also be used as green manure on the allotment; a good cropper, it is ground cover whilst you prepare other areas. Fenugreek can be grown in a container, or broadcast sown. It’s a quick growing herb, especially outdoors and when it has rained. A good dose of rain, will ensure that it grows lush and bountiful.

It is an acquired taste; it can be very bitter and is best used sparing when cooking.

How do you cook it exactly?

Well, you can use it dry, like any other herb. Use it to give a background, texture flavour to food. It can be quite intense in large dose; best served metered.

You can also cut, wash and chop the leaves to stuff chappatis. When making your dough with flour and water, add the leaves alongside herbs and spices.

As part of a dish, you can saute alongside spinach and potato, and also add it to aloo gobi.

When you have sauteed onions, garlic and ginger add the leaves. Don’t chop too finely, but keep them coarse. Otherwise it will just disintegrate.

Sow fenugreek in batches, sow it often. It does work as a cut and come again crop. Successive growing will allow for a continual crop. It can be grow up to October-ish. At that point, it works better as ground cover.

If you are going to use it as ground cover over the autumn and winter months, it can be dug during spring time to help prepare the soil for growing.

 

Chatting with @TheOrdKnitter

You may have read the post about socks; how I’ve learned how to knit them.

I wouldn’t have got that far without a little help from my friends, not to mention a book of patterns.

Well, I was kindly invited by The Ordinary Knitter, Heather, to share my experiences of knitting socks on flat needles.

I’d asked Heather for some advice on how to start, and she was great in walking me through a pattern.

You can hear the full podcast with Heather here.

 

socks

These are my current projects. Two stripy pairs for me. An experimental Dad  sock, and even one on a pair of circular needles. These, are the ones that I still need to reflect upon a bit further.

 

The book that I’ve used is by Alice Curtis Knit your socks on Straight.

To get growing

At this moment in time, there is a lot of seed sowing. The current situation, has inspired, challenged, encouraged people to start gardening. This might be growing your own food, sorting out the dahlias, or just rejuvenating your green space.

Gardening, has certainly struck a cord with people.

As such, I’ve been thinking about this blog. About how I started just over a decade ago, with containers in Dad’s garden. I started gardening, growing food through a combination of sheer fluke and curiosity.  Everything was an experiment.

It was also to help mental health at the time. I’d just come to the end of my initial teacher training, and was unlikely to be employed by the end of Summer. There was sadness, anxiety and uncertainty that experimenting with seed sowing could be alleviating.

Ten and bit years later, the change in the universe is global.

I started with cherry tomatoes, chilli plants. I found runner beans and even a Butternut squash plant that I called Gladys. We have Kevin the aubergine too.

That was an interesting summer, in 2009. We had a heatwave, and this led to a bumper crop of cayenne chillies.

I remember going to Wilkos, to Poundland, to get my supplies.

At this moment in time, that is impossible. There are DIY stores, but I’m not for one moment, encouraging non-essential travel. There are also online outlets, who are doing their best to support customers. Again, I advise caution, as businesses do the best that they can.

For my part, I have an allotment, that I can access sparingly to tidy up. I’ve yet to sow anything.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t offer support; especially with all the content on the blog. I wrote it, for that very job! To help others, perhaps share my mistakes so others would avoid them.

(There are also two books on the side bar, but that is not an advert.)

Gardening has the potential to bring great joy, stability, focus and so many other things. I know that it means a great deal to me. All being well, you may find something on the blog that also helps.

Apple and Socks…

I forget which week we’re on, but the lock-down measures remain in place. All for good reason; safety is paramount.

This week, has been about reflecting, about getting my hands dirty and also learning new skills.

The allotment has been on my mind a great deal. There is a lot to do, the plot has been left unloved for sometime. This, does feel rather overwhelming, as I have mentioned before. As such, I want to do little bits at a time, as much as I can.

I have an apple tree on the plot. In fact I have two. One is a Falstaff, the other is Braeburn. Both are currently in beautiful bloom with lovely pink and red blossom. The Falstaff is safe, secure, growing well. The Braeburn on the other hand, would be eight foot tall. However, due to storm damage,and not being staked properly, it is now growing bent over backwards, much like a fictional Japanese willow over a stream. I spent some time this week, propping it up. There was no way, no how, it was going to snap up straight. It is actually wonderfully well established, and happy too. I’ve never seen so much apple blossom on one tree. So rather than work against the tree, I want to work with it.

That was fun. Apart from falling over a raised bed and getting bruises.

Bruises, which didn’t help shoulder strain.

And where did I get shoulder strain from?

Well. Knitting.

I’ve been knitting for ages. Never purposefully though, and never actually finishing anything. So when a colleague told me about her sock knitting, with a member of the ‘Grape Gardening Family’ signposting me towards a book for knitting with flat needles, I had a ‘oh, yes?’ moment.

Two weeks, were spent, in between teaching and counselling, knitting like there was no tomorrow. I kid you not. I had the same brain fury that happens when I have a writing project that is all consuming. I pull the same thinking face too.

Flat needles. I’ve always knitted with these. I do have some circular needles, but they are still a bit abstract; I’ve yet to wrap my head around those. I don’t use DPNs-double pointed needles. That would also be a stretch of the visuo-spatial sketchpad.

Immersed and enthusiastic. I sprained my arm. There was three days sulking, and I have resumed knitting. I will also venture back to the plot too, at some point.

The socks, a pair, were completed. Yes, they are wonky, with one bigger than the other. But I have a pair of socks! Two weeks ago, I couldn’t read patterns, never mind knit socks.

(Yeah, Mama F has been helping too. I sat elbow to elbow with her, explaining the pattern. She’s a much more proficient knitter and crocheter than me, she can knit with her eyes closed. Doesn’t ever use patterns. But socks were new. She has since knitted a beautiful pair, that really are a piece of art.)

I’m really very proud of my wonky socks, and I have three more experimental ones in my needles. I’m using a mixture of bamboo and metal needles. The bamboo are less heavier, more warmer. Smaller metal needles do help with precision and better fitter socks.

 

 

 

 

 

To get growing….

…in time of lock down.

unknownred

No easy feat there, I tell you.

Yet, to get growing, to be green-fingered does have it’s benefits.

As it stands, there’s been a lot in the media about the horticultural industry and the impact that lock-down is happening. There are going to be lots of plants that potentially going to go to waste; the livelihoods of many involved in the industry will also be significantly impacted. I do hope, wish, that the industry will be supported and positive steps taken to provide a route to recovery. There is a very human impact with what we are all currently experiencing, the gardening world is no different.

Over the last couple of days, the allotment has been on my mind a great deal. It actually feels very overwhelming, in terms of what state it is likely to be and what I can do to change. With lock-down, social distancing, that is difficult. By now, I should have gone along, cleared parts of it, to make it viable. I might have also sown seeds.

Sadly, neither has been done, and I feel a tremendous amount of guilt in not having done that. I feel bad, that after all the years spent there, the cultivation and structuring, I have somewhat lost my way. To be fair, my life has changed a great deal. I work a lot more, as both a teacher and a counsellor. So there are different demands being made of me. I have a genuine sadness about that, that I find hard to verbalise. It is however there, and something that I need, want to get a handle on.

That is not to say that I am abandoning the plot. Far from it. I need to develop some resilience, some fortitude to go there and actually do something with an allotment that means a great deal to. Social distancing is in place, the allotment would help with mental health and also exercise. I will need to give that some further thought and make the time and space to go. I’m also little scared,  I think. Allotment neighbours are great. Except when they pass judgement. That, always rather irks and upsets me.

I have been thinking about my seedbox. About sowing seeds. Not that I have any compost, or pellets that I might use! I didn’t think this far ahead, it’s been an interesting three months. I didn’t for one moment, think we’d be on lock-down. So I am a little disorientated, what do I do, how do I do it? As with thinking about the allotment, that does feel overwhelming and bamboozling. I did think about maybe writing about seed-sowing, growing things, as I did when this blog first germinated.

(see what I did that.)

That was the seeds of an idea. I might do that, perhaps!

I might write about what to do, how to do it. Who knows.

At the moment, I do have a hankering to write about chilli plants…..

(…always the way it starts…..)