birds & berries

IMG_2516copyTuesdays are busy days for us: we start with the volunteer woods group on Lismore Circus and do our usual trim and tidy.

Happily we’ve recruited one more volunteer who came today – which was great as one of our stalwart’s was out of service to attend another appointment.

With four of us working for two hours, it turned into a three bags full kind of day – tons of cutting and trimming, including trying to remove some of the rampant wild clematis (also known as old man’s beard).  It’s prolific and taking over.  Should send a note to MIT other technology hub with tips about plants good for creating biofuels.  My top tips would be vines, clematis and also the dreaded pyrocanthus, which never seems to stop growing!

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Robin on the ball – on M’s plot (9 June 2020)

The a short break for a fruit smoothie, and it was back up to the plots.  First to M’s to water her winter squashes and rip a few more weeds… and then, finally to ours.

We’ve also taken up watering the plot at the bottom of ours, as the very kind couple are now both out of town to take care of their parents.  In their absence we agreed to water and tend.

They are so nice – I’m determined to keep their plot weed free and tidy, so it’s in tip-top shape when they finally return.

We didn’t do any heavy work yesterday – though we did make a start on making a new growing area at the top of our terrace at the level of the shed.

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Potato in blossom (9 June 2020)

I was sad to find that the slugs and snails have again wrought destruction to my beloved sunflower plants started from seed.  I’ve lost about five pots of the sunflowers – which will of course make the survivors all the more precious and sweet to behold.

We don’t grow potatoes, but the plot below has a healthy patch that we’ll be able to harvest later this summer if the couple don’t return in time.  The potatoes are flowering now.

All the while we were kept company by the birds and other flying beasts.  The Robin at M’s plot was particularly brave, and almost came to sit on the big guy’s open hand.  Maybe next time? He seemed keen to hitch a ride with us when he landed on G’s bicycle.

We harvested what remains of the strawberries, along with some red raspberries, golden raspberries and lots and lots of ripe loganberries.  We have over one kilogram of fruit so I’m planning to make a mixed berry summer jam as that’s just too much to eat fresh, and freezing fresh fruit seems to me a bit of a crime.  Jam is a much nicer solution to the problem of having too much fresh fruit.  Yum!

We ended the day chatting with F and have arranged to meet tomorrow to collect that most valuable of garden commodities from the Kentish Town City Farm – horse manure!  Wonderful!  Love manure!  The more the better, but we’ll start with 4 more bags tomorrow.  F also says you can buy hay from them, so we may return to get some of that in a couple of weeks.  Love hay for mulch, but manure is so much better!

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Go Jeeves!  Robin awaiting cycle transport. (9 June 2020)

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Comma Butterfly on strawberry plants. (9 June 2020)

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Magpie in fruit tree (9 June 2020)

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Magpie in flight.  Notice the crow-like beak. (9 June 2020)

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Cherries growing on the side elevation of the building – ready to harvest! (9 June 2020)

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Parakeet at the plot.  These guys are fantastic to look at, shriek like banshees, and are prolific fruit raiders who seem to take a bite out of every fruit on the tree.  (9 June 2020)

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biodiversity, bugs and a note on natives

Rah rah rah biodiversity.  But let’s be clear.  Biodiversity is bugs.  Some bugs we love – bees, butterflies.  Some less so – wasps, stinkbugs, lily beetles.  But when you’re making conditions fabulous for the bugs you love, you’re inviting in all the rest as well – spiders, centipedes, beetles that are not as cute as ladybirds – the lot!

There’s been much mumbling about whether native planting schemes are better for biodiversity than mixed or non-native plants in gardens.  But this debate can be put to rest because the RHS Plants for Bugs project was able to show that gardeners should plant a mix of native and non-native plants if they wish to attract an abundance of pollinators.

Research data showed no difference between pollinators attracted to plots containing only ‘native’ plants, and those with mixed, near-native or exotic plantings.

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Exotics at the allotment (24 May 2020)

RHS Principal Entomologist on the study, Andrew Salisbury, said that he hoped “these findings will help gardeners to confidently pack their borders, windowboxes and allotments with flowers, without getting hung up on the idea that they are somehow doing the ‘wrong thing’ if the plants are not all UK natives.’  (RHS, The Garden, September 2015, p.8)

This will make the big guy happy, as he’s dead keen on growing some fairly exotic flowers, such as these towering purple-flowering spears that grow at another plot at the allotments.

Andrew Salisbury et al‘s peer-reviewed paper “Enhancing gardens as habitats for flower‐visiting aerial insects (pollinators): should we plant native or exotic species?,” is published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology (August 2015).

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a glut of garlic

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Garlic harvest – 4 June 2020.

Yesterday we got around to lifting the garlic from their growing bed – the very last area in the allotment that we can cultivate for summer crops.  This shot shows the full harvest on-site, with flowering calendula growing on the garden path, and nasturtium visible on the other side of the path.

The garlic patch was planted on 9 November 2019, and we had stopped watering the patch by mid-May, which was largely hot and dry (with a short cold snap).

It is recommended to stop watering garlic two weeks before harvesting to allow the skin of the garlic bulb to start to ‘cure’ or dry out and become papery.

After removing from the earth you need to lay out the plants with bulbs on a wooden board in a dry space.

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Giant Garlic (4 June 2020)

Our harvest comprises two types of garlic – the French Germidour (soft-necked), which are small and purple tinged, as well as two Giant Garlic.  According to the variety information both these types of garlic are quite ‘mild’ but nevertheless the scent as we lifted them from the ground was heady and powerful.

Last year we left them out on a plank of wood in the open air at a time when it was fairly certain not to rain.  This year we are able to lay them out onto the wooden work space in the growing shed, so safely away from curiosity of foxes, squirrels and other hungry locals.

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Germidour French soft-necked garlic.

Because we’d stopped watering, lifting the garlic was surprisingly difficult work, with the earth hard-baked clay that was hard as concrete.

Despite having a sore shoulder, the big guy got to work right away, and turned over the new bed and broke down all the hard clumps.

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Garlic in the growing shed.

In the end this was accomplished by putting all the really big clumps into a green waste bag and stomping on it – a Malink technique that results in fine crumbly ground.

The bed now holds the remaining lettuces, ready for harvesting themselves, and so we can start to plan on what to plant in there.  We have new seed for dwarf beans and we could do more peas and try runner beans again…  Or direct-seed some kohlrabi and turnip? Or maybe more salad?  I also have some seed trays of sprouting broccoli, so they would be good contenders if the seeds are viable…  And we also have the cuttings from the tomato plants which could usefully be planted-in somewhere…

Yesterday I started more direct-sown seeds.  I gave up on two rows of seeds that have failed to come up in the raised strawberry bed.

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Former garlic bed, ready for new sowings and plants.

There’s a single section in that larger strawberry bed where I’ve got a row of Swiss chard seeded.

I’d also earlier in late April/early May seeded rows of beet and orange calendula, but neither was showing signs of life…

So into those previous rows I turned over the ground, added a bit of soft bagged compost, watered and then re-seeded with Pak Choi and a single side row of Italian spinach.

The tops of the line of seeds sown was covered with soft bagged compost.  This gives seedlings a better chance than growing through thick chunks of clay, and is a good way to improve the overall soil texture and composition of the bed over time.

CIMG8319The Pak Choi seeds are dated to 2022 but I’m not sure about the viability of the Italian Spinach.  Only time will tell, but hopefully these come up.  The Swiss Chard seedlings are doing well – I should probably thin these out soon.

In addition to the garlic harvest we also took home with us a lettuce and small green zucchini.

There was also more delicious early-summer fruit – a collection of red raspberry, yellow raspberry, and large juicy loganberries.  Yum!

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A little female Reed Bunting showed up immediately after Malink turned over the old garlic bed to prepare it for the next crops, and made her own harvest in worms.

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Before departing entirely we dropped in on M’s plot and gave all the plants a splash of water.  It was cool and dark with grey skies which threatened to rain, but I felt it in my bones as false.  It would not rain.  And so we watered.  (And it did not rain, though there was a brief shower of a mere two or three minutes just after mid-day the next day).

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Sweet Peas in flower on a neighbouring allotment plot.

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Plant Alert – a new citizen science project

Plant alert is a new citizen science project aimed directly at gardeners to help spot potentially invasive species.  It was launched on 1 June by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), in conjunction with Coventry University Department of Agroecology, Water and Resilience.

Invasive non-native plants can cause major problems for native biodiversity, ecosystems, infrastructure, as well as to our urban environments and human health. The most notorious of these in the UK is Japanese Knotweed.

Sadly, most invasive plants were introduced as ornamental garden plants but then escaped into the wider environment.  Gardeners therefore have a big part to play and are being asked to report plants that they notice spread wildly and difficult to control.

So why not do your part?  See their Plant_Alert_Flyer for more information or go directly to the Plant Alert Survey.  Reporting your findings is easy and can be done anonymously.

You can also take a look at their live survey results thus far when you visit the Results page.  This is a list of invasive plants that have been reported by other citizen science respondents from around the country.  Results are updated every few minutes.

Unfortunately their results page does not include photographs of the plants, but if you’re really determined you can always cut & paste the plant names to search image results online.

 

 

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PS: 3 June is World Bicycle Day!

CIMG8255Today marks the United Nations’ annual celebration of World Bicycle Day.

We find that the best bikes have racks and baskets – all the better to carry our garden equipment to and from the plot.

This is my ‘workhorse’ bike – bought at Decathlon over 15 years ago for about 100 squids and still using the original tires.

She’s an urban bike with only 7 gears and heavy enough to be unattractive to bike thieves!  Love the workhorse!

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Our bicycles at the allotment.

For work commuting (in the days when I used to ride to work before the furlough & coronavirus lockdown) I used the ‘filly’ which is a mountain bike with front shocks and many more gears, which are useful to get up the big hill at the end of the ride home.

The big guy’s a bike guy too – and much more than me truth be told.

He’s got a whole collection of bicycles, each loved for different aspects and qualities.  And is truly a magician at fixing and tuning them up.

According to the UN, World Bicycle Day:

  • Encourages Member States to devote particular attention to the bicycle in cross-cutting development strategies and to include the bicycle in international, regional, national and subnational development policies and programmes;
  • Encourages Member States to improve road safety and integrate it into sustainable mobility and transport infrastructure planning and design, in particular through policies and measures to actively protect and promote pedestrian safety and cycling mobility, with a view to broader health outcomes, particularly the prevention of injuries and non-communicable diseases;
  • Encourages stakeholders to emphasize and advance the use of the bicycle as a means of fostering sustainable development, strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people, promoting health, preventing disease, promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect and facilitating social inclusion and a culture of peace;
  • Encourages Member States to adopt best practices and means to promote the bicycle among all members of society, and in this regard welcomes initiatives to organize bicycle rides at the national and local levels as a means of strengthening physical and mental health and well-being and developing a culture of cycling in society.

Happy World Bicycle Day everyone!  And hey!  If you think your local authorities can do more to support and encourage cycling, why not take a moment to (a) find out who your local government councillors and officials are; (b) send them an email encouraging better provision of cycling infrastructure.

You might also like this short film dedicated to a public art work by Ai Wei Wei, which features many different bicycle frames.  I saw a portion of this sculpture with my own two eyes when Wei Wei had a large solo exhibition at London’s Royal Academy a few years back…

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triple duty day & meeting father frog

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New shed thermometer on the outside.

Tuesday was another hot dry day in London, with temperatures in the mid-twenties.  We’ve been speculating about the temperatures inside our growing shed.  Our allotment neighbour R has a thermometer in his shed and told us on Monday that temperatures inside his shed was 36ºC!!

So after our first session of the day – working with the woods volunteers – we broke for a brief lunch then went down to Kentish Town to pick up a thermometer or two for our own shed.

The big dude bought two big thermometers – one for inside the shed, and the other outside (in the shade).  And in the meantime, the seeds I started yesterday were left outside in the ‘nursery’ area (shady spot behind our massive stand of blackberries).  Seeds started include sprouting broccoli and kohl rabi.  Go seeds go!

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Logans & Roses.  (1 June 2020)

Up at the plot the strawberries are almost done and the leaves were going crinkly from lack of watering, so we gave them a splash and hopefully the remaining berries don’t rot off.

But the loganberries, planted in front of the rose arbour, are coming into their prime, making that whole corner a riot of various red tones.

Malink harvested berries while I puttered in the seed shed and found one berry that had twinned and looked heart-shaped.  Sweet!

And I’ve been delighted with the way everything’s growing – despite set backs with the seed trays.  Poor results with bean and pea seeds – and I’ll have to start more.  But we have had some successes with seeds.  We started from seed a tray of hollyhock – the seeds were collected in Antwerp when we were there for a Luka Bloom concert last year.  They should flower a deep pink/ fuchsia colour.  The plant from which the seeds came towered seven or eight feet tall and was growing in the grounds of the church that stood outside our rented room.

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Brick path in the woods by the compost bins, which was dissembled after being torn apart by neighbourhood children and toddlers. It remained in place for six days before being destroyed.  They are now all moved to the meadow.

The plan is to transplant these to the back patch wildflower area in the middle of the lawn.  (Newly defined by blond bricks which were removed from the woods because children in the neighbourhood had taken to playing with the bricks, making trip hazards on the pathways. I decided to remove all the loose bricks from the woods, and trundled them all by wheelbarrow from woods to the back patch first thing in the morning yesterday.)  So in truth I was on four major missions yesterday: meadow/bricks; woods; our plot; M’s plot.  Whewf what a day!)

We also have six or so seeded sunflower plants which I’ve potted up but need planting out somewhere.  I’ve not decided where…  We have almost no more space on our own plot.  We could plant the sunflowers into M’s beds…  Or perhaps add them to the back patch?  Not sure..  still thinking…

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Mysterious blend lilies poking out from the earth. (2 June 2020)

The other flower development is the emergence of the lily bulbs I planted on 23 March.  The first growth was poking out at the start of this week.

Again, this is a bit of an experiment (albeit poorly controlled), as both sets of lilies were planted at the same time and given the same amount of water and care.  One is in a plastic pot, and the other in a terracotta pot.  It looks like plastic is winning as there are healthy plants emerging in the plastic pot, whereas there’s not much sign of life in the terracotta pot.  But one major variable here is that they are different types of lily so maybe the other pot’s lilies (asiatic lily – stargazer) are slower growing?  We shall see….

An amazing feature of these emergent lilies is that the small plants already show flower heads!  You would imagine they take time to develop, but the flower tips are there on the small plants, just needing to expand and grow.

CIMG8080And so it goes.  Our plot is pretty much complete – we’ve even cracked the summer shower project and have a working watering can / summer shower set up at the top of the plot – so there’s not much to do these days but do things like install thermometers, and harvest and water the crops that are growing.  We harvested yet another delicious red lettuce which provided us our main meal last night: a simple salad of leaves, store bought vine tomatoes and grilled halloumi, with a dijon, apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing.  Super-yum!  (So yummy that the big guy is now talking about digging out the strawberry beds to expand the salad beds, which really says a lot as he’s been loving the berries).

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Father Frog in the pond (2 June 2020)

Having not much gardening and digging to do suits the big guy just fine as we’ve been working very hard and it’s nice to take a break from all the back breaking work.

There were new delights to behold – including a surprise appearance in the froglet/newt pond of father frog.  He’s an impressively handsome character who seems to like burrowing in the soft silt at the bottom of the shallow pond.  Super dude watched the frog come up to the water’s edge for a breather, and then descend to the murky depths several times.

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Scene of a crime.  Froglet skeletal remains at the bottom of the pond – post tadpole feeding frenzy. (1 June 2020)

Not much sign of the many little froglets that were in the pond in numbers only a few days ago.  Yesterday we only spotted four or five…

We’re hoping they were taking cover under the ivy and well away from their marauding tadpole siblings.  It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, for sure, but mother nature can be brutal and the drama in the frog pond sure makes the point.  Yikes!

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Little chirper in the trees above the newt pond. A Coal Tit.(2 June 2020)

But we had visual confirmation on the newts and all three newts were spotted healthy and happy, unmolested and frolicking, in the pond waters yesterday.  Very happy about that as we’d be sore and very sad if anything bad happened to our beloved family of newts.

There were birds aplenty – including this handsome chirper – but no sign for days and days of our trusty robin.  Not sure where king of the plot has gone….  Busy with fledglings maybe?

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Female Black-tailed Skimmer dragonfly at the plot. (2 June 2020)

The other flying marvel who caught our eye was this gorgeous dragonfly, which we identified as a female Black-tailed Skimmer.

This photo shows the amazing detail of the wings – so intricately wrought! Awesome.

We hung out a bit and then went down to M’s plot to plant in her winter squashes and the overflow summer squashes and my one pumpkin plant, from our plot.  (In the photo below the pumpkin is the plant closest to the green watering can, whereas M’s winter squashes were planted above, into the beds close to the red watering can)

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M’s plot planted with winter & summer squash. (2 June 2020)

We’d met M earlier in the morning to collect her plants – two winter squash (butternut).

She’s also started some purple sweet potato, but these were delicate and have not yet been planted.

She very kindly gave the big guy a hot pepper plant that she’d started from seed.  It’s tiny and delicate and resting in the hot house (aka allotment growing shed).   As we worked many people walked by and asked of M, so we’re collecting well-wishes and sending them back to her.

After planting up at M’s we were dripping in sweat, so went to rest for a bit in the peaceful shade under our umbrella before heading home.

Our other bottom allotment neighbour wished us farewell – he’s heading out of country to see his folks back home.  Super-dude offered to water his patch when he goes.  Oh my!  We’re going to be stretched, watering so many allotment plots, as well as our own flower gardens in the back patch and the woods to the side of the building.  Just as well we’re both on furlough and have time on our hands.

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Haulage on the overground tracks. (2 June 2020)

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It’s Pride Month: Train with logo ‘Every Love Matters’ in rainbow colours. (2 June 2020)

What the overground train mumbled as it rumbled by: “June is Every Love Matters month.  Black lives matter.  We all matter.  Every day, no matter the month.  Love the days.  Love one another.  So say I.  Grumble, grumble, grumble, clickety-clack.”

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salad days (but not like you’d think)

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Curly red lettuce, ready to harvest. (30 May 2020)

Inspired by the crispy, fresh tastiness of our garden grown red curly lettuces, which have provided us two delicious main meals in the past week, I decided to dedicate a little bit of time to ensuring we have a steady harvest of tasty leaves throughout the summer.

About two weeks ago I started some seeds in a tray in the growing shed, and have now planted those tiny tender seedlings out into the soft new manure-rich soil of the new raised bed.

Into the front of the new raised bed are sunk two large pots of green-fruiting zucchini (from which we’ve already eaten three tiny zucchini) and so, under the shade and with the water overflow from the squash, are sheltered some lettuce.

Let’s hope they survive the eventual onslaught of slugs.

CIMG8181The little seedlings were started with ‘Tom Thumb lettuce’ seeds, which can be grown from February to August.

As these did well I also started new trays of lettuce seed of these, as well as a tray of Cos lettuce.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if they all came up and grew!?  I hope so.

Another bonus that came to us from the garbage was a new wicker growing basket.  The day before I’d spied a wicker laundry basket beside cardboard boxes outside a ground floor flat.  Even though my magpie instincts urged me to saunter over and retrieve it then and there, it was still right on someone’s doorway and that didn’t seem the right thing to do.  So the next day I of course cast my eyes down the doorways, but the basket was gone.  I decided to take the chance that it had been placed in the building’s locked rubbish room, so took a detour from unlocking my bike and went to quickly check the garbage room.  And there it was – in fairly good shape, looking almost new, with a few chunks of weave missing on one side.  So scooped it up and brought it straight to the allotment.

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New wicker basket planted with Tom Thumb Lettuce, 31 May 2020.

After being lined with black horticultural fleece and filled with bagged potting soil, I watered it thoroughly (until water ran out the bottom) and then let drain for a few minutes before direct-seededing some more Tom Thumb lettuce.

Lettuce plants are not as a rule deep rooted, so are perfect candidates for growing baskets and pots. I’m so pleased with this new basket.  It’s cute as a picture and fits perfectly into the far end of the brick path.  It’s quite small so that even full of soil it’s not too heavy to be easily moved to a shadier or sunnier spot if needs be.  Magic!

I’m also very happy that the Tom Thumb lettuce seeds have proved themselves viable.  I’m going to keep sowing until the packet runs out.

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Comma butterfly on the garlic plants. 31 May 2020.

In this respect the Cos lettuce that I seeded into trays is more like a test batch – hopefully they germinate.  Only time will tell.

I’m also not sure at this point whether to have lettuce seed trays in the shed, which is now hot and humid so could be too hot for cool loving lettuce.  Don’t know.

Must continue to experiment and may start a tray of Cos seed that I leave outside the shed as a control to compare with the shed-grown trays.

All of which assumes that the seeds are viable – a first step of which we are uncertain…

On verra!

There was interest and high drama with the wildlife yesterday.  Butterflies flitted on the warm summer breeze, and the garlic bed was visited by a handsome Comma butterfly.  A large dragonfly flew by on patrol, zooming at height over the allotment plots.  Birds chirped and all seemed serene and idyllic.  A perfectly peaceful summer’s day…

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Comma butterfly (underwing) on the garlic patch. 31 May 2020.

And then we took a look in the pond.  It was all a bit brutal, to be honest.  There was a cluster of large tadpoles at the bottom of the waters, hoarding around and savaging at something – like miniature sharks on a feeding frenzy.

On closer inspection we realised with some degree of horror that what they were eating was a tiny, perfectly formed frog.  Yikes! Their whole little tadpole heads were moving up and down, a bit like Pacman if you’re old enough to remember that computer game.  Chomping, chomping, all of them swimming around, circling, chomping.  I could only think of a frenzied shark attack – albeit in miniature.

Flying frogs from above!  Was it murder?  Tadpole cannibalism of their older silbings?  Or maybe that little frog had been sick or poorly, and was now being consumed by his siblings in mother nature’s remorseless ‘waste-not, want-not’ ways?  Who could know?

What we could clearly see was that there were noticeably less larvae in the water – and had commented only a day or so ago that we hoped they weren’t running out of food…

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Froglet with tail (31 May 2020)

Looking around, we spied many tiny, perfectly formed but fully alive froglets.

They are a marvel to behold – perfect in their juvenile miniature form.

Many had already shed their tails, but some had vestigial tails.

At least now these little froglets can hop and shimmy up the side of the pond and get out of the water, to escape their hungry younger siblings.

The newts were also active, and thankfully more peaceful than life at the bottom of the tadpole pond.  It’s lovely to see the newts swimming freely in the pond, so sinuous and graceful when they move.  We’ve seen three at once – two larger newts and a much smaller little dude that the big dude has nicknamed Sir Isaac Newt, Jr.

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Palmate newt at bottom of pond; tiny frog swimming above.  (31 May 2020)

 

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Four tiny froglets take refuge at the edge of the pond. (31 May 2020)

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tapdancing tadpoles

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Tadpole with perfectly formed legs and feet. (30 May 2020)

And all of a sudden, the day, she came.  And then the tadpoles had legs.

Perfectly formed but infinitely tiny back legs.

These ones will be toads or frogs – we hear that on newts it is the front legs that develop first…

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Larger perspective in a relatively tiny space: back legs on tadpole. (30 May 2020)

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The tadpoles like my newly installed underwater pebble ‘beach’ (30 May 2020).  Today I added three more pebbles.  And so it goes…

Go tadpoles go!  (Ribbit)

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forward thinking: garlic & gooseberries

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Gooseberry ripening.  (30 May 2020)

There are two impending harvests that loom on the horizon: our Germidor soft-necked and Giant Garlic, and also the gooseberries.

The garlic bed is sorely needed as a growing space, and we stopped watering that patch a week ago.  Even if the bulbs are small, they will have had a good growing season having been planted in the autumn.  Small and mighty’s just fine with us.

And the gooseberries are slowing turning from green and hard looking to a more welcoming rosy tone.  Hhhhmmnn…

Gooseberries beckon crumbles, tart pies, and jams.  As for the garlic, maybe we should do some herbed oils…

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Garlic patch, late May 2020.

Peter Lawrence’s The Allotment Cookbook recommends making herbed oils to extend the harvest of early summer herbs, including rosemary and thyme – both favourites in our kitchen.

Each of the two oils (rosemary and thyme) also calls for fresh garlic – so no better time than just after our garlic harvest to make some flavoured oils.

We can make extras to share with Michelob and the rest of the gang – maybe to gift as Christmas presents or somesuch?  Anyway, must add two large tins of olive oil to the list for our next big shop.

Lawrence’s recipe for two bottles of herbed oil: take “a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, washed; 2 cloves garlic, peeled; a few strands of unwaxed orange zest; 1 litre extra-virgin olive oil; a few strands of unwaxed lemon zest.” … [Use sprigs that have been air dried for a few days]  “Poke a few sprigs of rosemary, a garlic clove and the strands of orange zest into a sterlised bottled, then fill with half the olive oil” [eg fill this bottle with 500 ml of the 1 litre of olive oil called for in his recipe].  “In the other bottle pack the thyme sprigs, a garlic clove and a few strands of lemon zest and fill with the remaining oil.  Seal tightly.  Store in a cool place.  After a week the oils will be ready to use.  (Peter Lawrence’s The Allotment Cookbook, p.32)

We could also do some pre-prepared garlic butter, and add other herbs into this such as finely chopped chives, garlic chives, parsley etc.  That way we’d be half-way there to making fresh and super-tasty garlic bread whenever the whim takes us.  And we could also add the savory garlic butter to a base of onions when preparing soups and other sauces – or fish!

And then, of course, there’s the classic spaghetti aglio e olio, which essentially is pan fried garlic (taking care not to burn it!), over cooked spaghetti, sprinkled with bread crumbs to help adherence, then liberally sprinkled with finely grated parmesan.  You can add sprinkles of hot chili pepper (not to my tastes), or chopped flat leafed parsley (to which I can only say yes, yes, yes!). Having my beloved late Uncle John make this – a proud Canadian paisano – was always a very special treat and a delicious memory. 

Yum, yum and Yum!

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Potted winter savory on the strawberry stairs. (30 May 2020)

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Milan Purple Top Turnip in growing trough (beside potted lemon tree). (30 May 2020)

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Pea bed doing perfectly. (30 May 2020)

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Thai Basil re-potted to top terrace (30 May 2020)

 

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ready… steady…. Jam!

It’s ‘On Your Marks!’ season in the gardens, that much is for sure.  Everything’s exploding and the growing shed is near enough empty…  The sole survivors in there are the seeded Thai basil, now ready to be potted-up-and-out, a tray of parsley seed (still mainly bare earth, with one tiny shoot showing), and the cuttings from the tomatoes.  There are a few potted-up squashes too, and the pumpkin – which will have to go down to M’s plot.  That’s our objective today: start more seeds in our shack and also get on with turning over the ground and preparing to plant-up M’s growing spaces.

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Felicity Fiacre, through the rose arbour. (29 May 2020)

Yesterday I planted into the new thin bottom bed two of the zucchino squashes – think white flying saucers of deliciousness! – interspersing them with the seeded Tuscan Kale (Calvero Nero).

The squash grow low and the calvero nero will one day tower tall as a sprouting broccoli, which is to say up to a height of four feet or more and take two square feet of space in all directions.  The squash will be short-growing seasonal crops, whereas the calvero nero is a commitment plant – one that will be with you in your garden for about 18 months or so, and really come into their best for harvesting after their first year.

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The new growing bed with calvero nero and zucchinos.  Corn plants with sunflowers, in front. (30 May 2020) 

I’m hoping it will be a good marriage of plants.

This is a totally new growing space that I’m excited about.  The new bed was created when I got fed up with the poor performance of the two plastic troughs that were tucked in between the raised planter and the wooden lattice guard that marks the line where the earth disappears and there’s a bathtub pond full of frogs and papyrus about three feet down.

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Red lettuce patch at the top of the garlic bed.  These delicious lettuce have provided us with two dinners in a row.  A huge success!  Have to experiment in future with cut & come-again types of lettuce. (30 May 2020)

Making the mistake of stepping over this line could be fatal, so we put in the lattice, and in the gap between the two I’d placed two long plastic trough planters.  It seemed, when we first got started on our plot two years ago, a good use of space for an awkward spot.  I had laid some plastic (re-used from bags of soil and manure) under the pots to discourage weeds, but the trays were always drying out, the plants no more than weeds and the odd straggly calendula or self-seeded blue-flowering forget-me-not, and the weeds both under and within the troughs were persistent and hard to control.  Awkward, unsightly and totally unproductive, in other words.

So I got the idea of using a bit of wood left over from the new gooseberry raised bed made from reclaimed bed boards, and the big guy got to work and made it in a flash.  Magic!

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Bees busy on the blackberry bloom.  (29 May 2020)

Now this space will be super-productive and much easier to use.  We filled it with a half bag of manure and also fresh garden compost.  The plants had been sunk into the new plot for a few days to harden off (and also to test whether the whole area would be deluged with slugs and snails), but it all looked good so yesterday we took the final plunge and put the plants in.  I can’t believe how large it is compared to the measly amount of growing space provided by the plastic planters.  I think it’s going to work out great!

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Zucchino, potted (30 May 2020)

An added bonus is that the plastic trough planters will be useful for starter plants in the growing shed.

When not in use I can tuck them under the platform, out of sight and under our feet without being under our feet so to speak.

And so again, we have the marvels of the moveable feast.

It all turns ’round in most wonderful ways.

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Making jam (29 May 2020)

As we were winding down we harvested one of the curly-leafed red lettuces, along with winter savory, thyme, creeping marjoram.

There were six small radish too, and the first very tiny but perfectly formed green zucchini.  Oh yes, and more strawberries, along with a handful of yellow raspberries and loganberries.  Raspberries and loganberries are just starting to become ripe, whereas it’s been strawberry season for a month and we’ve got a glut of various harvests in tubs in the fridge.  Which leads to only one thing to do: make jam.

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Strawberry jam (with raspberry & loganberries). (29 May 2020)

And so the labours of the allotment truck home with us and set-up camp in the kitchen.  The work’s never done, but geesh, it’s a real delight when you reap the rewards.  Garden grown strawberry jam.  Oh my!  I left one jar open to be eaten tout suite and another I covered in melted paraffin wax, so we can enjoy the flavour of early summer much later into the year.

All told we had just under 1 kilo of strawberries, to which I added the juice of two lemons, and about 700 grams of white caster sugar.  That’s all it takes, plus time and heat.  Having a jam thermometer is a big help, but my experience is it’s best to go by instinct, as previous jams cooked to the rule of the thermometer ended up being just a bit too thick.

And while I made jam, the big guy constructed a lovely garden-fresh salad from our harvested lettuce and herbs, with radish, tiny zucchini and some store-bought tomatoes, into which he added sections of grilled sausage.  Yum!

Lovely day, from start to end.  Hurrah!

 

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