Monday 8 May 2023

Wildflowers near where I live

For the past couple of years we have been getting more interested in identifying wildflowers when out and about on walks and cycle rides. There's so much to learn and so much that we think we overlooked before!

In order, these picture are of Bugle, Cowslips, Bluebells and Lesser Celandines and Wood Anemone. 

The Lesser Celandines in particular have been all over the place this year, big areas of them, even some by the A64 along with Danish Scurvy Grass and now the first Red and White Campions coming through. 

Allotment Update

It has been some time since the last blog, I really ought to keep up to it! One of the things I have been doing quite a bit of recently is recording sightings of various species on iRecord which is a fantastic resource, like iNaturalist and BirdForum for recording sightings. Another app I have been using is PictureThis which, although not perfect, does get most things right or at least lead one to the right species or family. 

Anyway, on to the allotment. This Spring has been quite cool. This has been good for stored fruit and vegetables from last year such as apples and onions but not good for getting new crops going! 

The blossom on the Conference and Comice pear trees.
The blueberries have had plenty of blossom too!

I do wonder whether the apple trees will produce quite as many apples this year, but they do have plenty of blossom and look really lovely. 
This is a mixture of overwintered onions and garlic and this year's onion sets. Leeks are starting to pop up in the patch at the rear. Also in this area, out of shot, are rows of parsnip seeds and spring onions. 

Although it has been cool, there's has hardly been any late frosts, just a small number of nights where I have had to cover over the potatoes and fruit trees to protect them from damage. 

Sunday 1 January 2023

Winter Protection in the Allotment

 Many of the plants in the allotment are winter hardy - the fruit trees and bushes shut down for winter and vegetables like parsnips and leeks will be fine in cold weather. However, a few of our plants do need a little bit of extra protection at this time of year. 

This is our Mayer Lemon tree. It used to live in our house but was always getting plagued by scale insect but we found that after a few weeks one summer at the allotment it started being healthy and there were no scale insects. There is always something to eat the bugs!

But, it needs to be kept warm over winter, even though it is in the part of the allotment that gets the most sun with a hedge protecting it for the north wind. 

So, it gets well wrapped up in bubble wrap and with a mulch of straw for the winter!

The blueberries have been weeded and given a mulch of straw. They are getting rather too big for the cage so I am going to dig out some more earth in the base and so the pots will sit deeper nto the ground for this coming year. Ultimately we may need a bigger cage! 

These are our carrots. The tyres provide insulation and protection from carrot flies, and a mulch of straw keeps the tops of the carrots away from frost. 

Thursday 10 November 2022

Little Asby Common - Part 2 - insects, birds and frogs

 In Part 1 of this blog series I looked at some of the plant life on Little Asby Common, Cumbria which we saw when we were staying in the village. 

In this blog I share some of the wildlife we saw up there. Like many uplands in the UK, you can hear curlew with their bubbling call, though we were too late in the season to see some of the other waders that nest in the area and too early for the influx of ducks and geese from Iceland and Greenland that pass through the region on migration. 

Quite some distance from other flowers I found this Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans) with what I believe to be a Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) but I am not 100% sure of the identification! 

It does show how wide ranging bees are in search of food and it certainly found the thistle to its liking, as I was watching it for several minutes. 

This is a Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis), a common bird both in the lowlands and uplands. They are usually quite skittish around humans but this one was perched for a little while on a wall near Sunbiggin Tarn while we watched.

While we were at Sunbiggin Tarn we had to be very careful walking around as there were quite a few tiny frogs making their way towards the lake through the undergrowth!

I only had moments to get a blurry
photo of what I think is a Common Darter dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum) enjoying the sunshine on a rock on the hillside above the tarn. I wasn't expecting a dragonfly out in the middle of the moorland but looking at the British Dragonfly Society sightings map, some have been seen here before. 

And of course, although they aren't wild, meet one of the sheep living on the moor, in conversation!

Little Asby Common - sheep wrecked?? Part 1

Whilst on holiday in the tiny village of Little Asby, near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, we were able to take several walks up onto Little Asby Common which is a limestone pavement moorland and common land. This extends over towards Sunbiggin Tarn, which is a small lake a few miles away, of which more later. There is a lot of archaeology up there, going back thousands of years and beyond Sunbiggin Tarn there is a stone circle at Gamelands near Orton.

But having been gifted books on lichens, mosses and ferns for my birthday, and with an increasing interest in wildflowers, I wanted to see what species there were on a moorland habitat some deride as sheep-wrecked. 

This is an Autumn Hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis), looks a bit like a dandelion. Common in rocky places and is perennial. 
This is a Harebell or Scottish Bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia) more common in the north of England into Scotland than further south. Very delicate flowers, of which there were quite a few on the moor. 

Dreaming about harebells is said to symbolise true love! 

This is a Maidenhair Spleenwort, (Asplenium trichomanes) bit of a mouthful to say but I wouldn't try eating it!

This is a fern that grow out of rocky crevices and is easily recognisable by the shape of the leaves. 

This is Tormenil, a kind of Cinquefoil (Potentilla erecta) found on acid grassland and moorland. 

Many of the flowers I found whilst on the moorland were quite small and delicate but obviously able to survive the presence of sheep on the fell. In fact, the grazing of animals is a integral part of the survival of smaller wildflowers as well managed grazing stops these being outcompeted by larger species as Plantlife explain in this article

In the next blog, more wildflowers and some of the creatures I saw during my time on the common. 

Sunday 6 November 2022

Autumn in the Allotment

Gosh, it has been a while since I have posted on the blog! Have been pretty active on Twitter and been spending a lot of time sorting through photographs taken whilst on holiday in Cumbria, near Kirkby Stephen, of which more another time. 

I also have been doing some website and social media volunteering for , a non-profit foundation helping indigenous people in northern Brazil restore and protect rainforest. 

We've also made several bags up of mini sweetcorn, the variety is called Minipop and it does seem to do very well in our allotment. We start them off in sterilised compost in toilet roll tubes and then plant it in a block as it is wind pollinated. 

One thing that did benefit from the absurdly high temperatures this summer was the grape vine. Although the grapes aren't massive, it is outdoors, the quantity was significantly higher than usual and there's a huge bag in the freezer waiting for me to have chance to start off some wine. 

This Autumn we have had a lot of apples and pears, and I mean.... a lot! We have three minarette apple trees, a Gala, a Chiver's Delight and a Falstaff. There's also two minarette pear trees, a Conference and a Comice, the latter of which does ripen very quickly in storage and so I have had to preserve a lot of them in sugar solution, great in porridge!

We've had some lovely Cosmos in the allotment, and indeed sunflowers, nasturtiums and marigolds. We also leave some weeds to grow into flowers, mainly to see what they are, but also as you never know what wildlife will turn up on them and indeed depend on them for nectar etc. 

Earlier in the year, whilst it was so dry, we were really worried about the size of the potatoes. However, the dry and hot weather have meant no blight this year so we have been able to leave the potatoes in the ground for much longer which has meant they are now a decent size. They make great chips though some of them do fragment easily when boiled. The nasturtiums are taking over where the potatoes were!

Sunday 24 April 2022

Cassoulet - ish

I enjoy cooking but have, I suppose like many people, a fairly limited selection of dishes that I can actually cook! I find recipes in books and online often way too complicated for me, not that I can't understand them given time but that I just want to get on with throwing things into a pan, wok or dish, frying or bubbling or oven-cooking it up. 

However, having gone round my usual list of Sunday dinner options, which doesn't just include the traditional English Sunday roast, I decided that I would actually try something new this week. 

My eldest mentioned recently that cassoulet, which is basically like a French bean casserole with meat, is something that she bought in tins when working in France but never really tried cooking it herself. Now, I am sure that my version of it would seriously annoy any respectable French cook but I decided to give it a go. 

Hence, "Cassoulet-ish" is the title for this blog!

So, one of the things that we grow a lot of in the allotment are borlotti beans for drying.

These are just some of them, it took a long time to pod all of them and when drying in the pods, they took up over four fruit boxes like you get at the greengrocers. 

We have also still been eating our carrots planted last year in tyre stacks, though they are getting down to the last few small ones now. 

But, even though we are at the very last of the crops planted the previous season, we do have asparagus!

These have popped up literally in the past couple of days and there's more just under the surface wich will do for tea this coming Tuesday evening. 

So, my version of cassoulet, which will serve 9 portions, involved the following:

Dried Borlotti beans - soaked overnight in cold water (really important), change of water, then boiled with some dried red kidney beans (again soaked overnight) for 45 mins or so. To be honest we just pour dried beans in the pan until it looks like we have enough but I would suggest that a medium mug full of dried beans per 3 or so people is about right.

Carrots - approximately 4 large ones, though half of the selection of carrots I put in were from the allotment and in various small sizes and strange shapes! Diced

Swede - two slices, diced

Beetroot - half of one, though one could use a whole one quite easily, diced. 

Mushrooms - about 500g (just over 1lb), chopped

1 red bell pepper, sliced and diced

6 lengths of asparagus from our allotment

Rosemary and other mixed dried, chopped herbs to taste. (the rosemary being a gift from another allotment holder!)

Olive or vegetable oil to brown the meat in

Half a lb (about 225g) of back bacon, trimmed of fat, diced. Bought from our local butchers, supplied by a farm 3 miles away

1 dozen medium sausages, sliced into half inch (1.25cm) slices, again from same butchers and farm. I chose some pork with sage flavouring but any decent butchers' sausage which isn't too plain or too spicy would be fine. 

Once the beans were done, I drained them and then popped them to one side on a plate while I browned the sausage and bacon in the same pan (to save washing up!) and added some stock (ideally one would use a pork or bacon stock cube but I had to substitute a beef one), enough to cover all the ingredients once the vegetables and beans are added in. I always find it worth giving any meat a good brown over before moving onto the next stage. 

I bubbled the meat and stock for a couple of minutes, giving it a good stir, then I added all the vegetables and beans, which luckily just fitted in the pan! And added the chopped up herbs. 

I then bubbled this for about 30 minutes with the occasional stir. I then added the asparagus and boiled for another 10-15 minutes. I did read somewhere that one should always cook asparagus vertically so that the tips are steamed, not boiled. Hence the mixture looks like some kind of weird bean birthday cake with candles!

Alongside this, I popped some part-baked baguettes into the oven on 200C (392F) for 10 minutes bought from the local supermarket (there isn't a bakery that is open on a Sunday where I live and to be honest I am not sure the one we do have during the week does baguettes to buy on their own anyway)

So, here we have the finished serving of something that may or may not be Cassoulet but certainly was very tasty!