Thursday 24 October 2013

Perhaps we all ought to sit in the dark and cold!

This past couple of weeks, the main energy companies have all been putting up their prices. A lot. Like 10-12%. This is despite making huge profits, and paying those at the top massive wages and bonuses.

And leaving their lights on - as was pictured in a couple of newspapers..

And the head honcho of one of them having a big country pile with heated swimming pool...

At least John Major, who I had assumed had gone to live out his retirement at Lords or the Oval, was willing to put his head above the parapet to complain about the injustice of it all. Although he probably doesn't need to worry about a 10% increase in the cost of his leccie....Nor I assume do the rest of the present government especially as presumably quite a lot of the cost of the energy they use comes from the public purse....

It's not just gas and electricity, look how the petrol price has stayed at over 130p for ages now. I think that it the Government adjusted the tax such that petrol was a stright £1 a litre, then this would reduce haulage costs, thus decrease the cost of goods in the shops, increase employment by increasing profitability and reducing costs for business, and give people money back in their pockets which could then feed back into the economy by increasing purchasing and investment. More employment means more tax receipts, more profits means more business tax paid and so on.

Friday 4 October 2013

Little ways to save energy - 10 tips

1. Switch off lights when not in the room and use natural daylight as much as possible.
2. Switch off the cooker ring - if using electricity - before the end of cooking time, the residual heat will keep a pan boiling for several minutes afterwards.
3. Drive slower - I generally drive at 60mph and get average of 41.5mpg from a 2005 Renault Scenic - in a mixture of urban and motorway and A road driving.
4. Boil only what you need in the kettle. I have heard that it is more energy efficient to boil water in a kettle for vegetables than heat the water up on the hob, but this needs verifying.
5. Invest in a wind-up radio, you get exercise as well from all the winding!
6. Shut curtains at dusk - a lot of energy escapes through windows at night.
7. Put a jumper on rather than the heating when reasonable - obviously there comes a point where the heating needs to go on!
8. Laptops and tablets use less power than PCs
9. Share a bath! (You may do this anyway for reasons other than energy saving!)
10. Re-use heat - keep your toast warm by heating the plate up on top of the toaster, removing just before pop-up! Put plates in the oven to warm, do more than one dish in the oven, or do enough for 2 or 3 days in one go - e.g. Sunday + Monday plus a tub full for the freezer.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Autumn jobs - almost in the dark!

It is a good job I have got good eyesight in the dark! Even the local bats seem to want to stay close to streetlights (definitely Pipistrelle, and another larger species, fyi)

It is becoming a rush now to try and get things done in between coming home from work, having tea, picking the kids up and the sun going down, and frequently these past few days I have been trying to do work in almost darkness.

Still has to be done though, and for the record I have:

Finished digging over the potato patch - although I am sure a few will pop up next year as always
Dug over where the broad beans were
Planted winter onions in the former bean patch
Planted overwintering broad beans where the potatoes were
Watered - until today it has been very dry and the lettuces were suffering.
Started to pick windfall apples, and there's still some late raspberries to pick

There;s still plenty to eat, courgettes, tomatoes, leeks coming, parsnips coming, lettuce, beetroot, broccoli, green beans and in store onions and potatoes, broad beans in the freezer, and plenty of jam made from damsons, strawberries, blackberries, blackcurrants and raspberries.

And baby carrots from the window boxes in the yard - high up on the wall away from the carrot flies and they are really sweet and free of black dots and holes that the flies create.

Next job is to pick and store apples and pears, though they are really quite late this year with only one or two windfalls so far (which are eatable) and the rest not seeming in any hurry to be pickable.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

An experiment in peas

I read about how the Victorians used to grow things out of season by using hotbeds filled with manure, this gave off sufficient heat as it decomposed to keep plants warm and growing at times where normally they would suffer.

So, I thought I would give something a try. Unfortunately I don't have any horse manure at the moment, those Victorians had it in mountains in the days of horse drawn travelling! But I have plenty of compostable fruit and veg peelings and skins, as well as some guinea pig manure!

Into a wall-mounted tub goes some compost, followed by a deep layer of compostables, then a layer of compost on top for the peas to get stuck into while the decomposing gets going. The peas had been grown indoors and are about 3-4ins high right now.

Location is also important, our yard wall is in direct sunlight until about 2pm, and the corner where I have put the peas is the last to go into shade, but actually once the sun has gone round a bit, in late afternoon, that corner comes back into sunshine again (our house is east/west facing). The wall absorbs heat during the day and thus acts as a retainer, releasing heat back into the environment during the evening and night.

I put some twigs in for the peas to climb up, and we'll see what happens. I can always move them into the lean to greenhouse when the tomatoes have finished. Or put a clear plastic bag over them.

If I can get them to grow fast enough and we have a mild autumn we might well get peas this year. We'll see!

Tuesday 13 August 2013


It's time to get thorns in your fingers and nettled as you strive to read the awkward blackberries that hide in the most awkward places!

The blackberries do seem to be doing well this year, perhaps the cold, long winter has done them good.

WARNING! If you happen to own a Blackberry, please do not try and make jam with it, it will invalidate the manufacturer's warranty, this is unless the manufacturer invalidates its own warranty by going bust first....

We freeze them until there's enough for jamming (which my wife does to Bob Marley on the Walkman...there's a link there I think...), so it is always as well to check for little caterpillars and spiders before doing so.

Once they've fruited they will get pruned right back, and any stray plants tamed or dug up.

My mum saw blackberries on sale in the supermarket the other day - is there seriously anyone out there that would consider buying blackberries, let alone for nearly £2 for a punnet! Have they not got a hedgerow or patch of waste ground near them or something, or have they become so brainwashed by the supermarkets that they don't even know that blackberries are all over the place and can be picked pretty much at will!

Friday 2 August 2013

Tasks for August

It feels like all we need to do just now is pick and eat!

However, there's still a few things that need to happen to keep the allotment in good order:

1. Weed - some weeds are vaguely useful, for instance we let the poppies grow on as plenty of insects and bees like them.

Some are edible, I have tried Good King Henry but don't like it, however it may surprise you to know that I don't like a lot of salad plants either (others in the family do, as do the guinea pigs!).
I have made dandelion root coffee, and coffee made from the seeds of goose grass, both dried and roasted, crushed and infused. Acorn coffee's good as well, but no oak trees in the allotment!

2. Bordeaux mixture and other sprays - I spray the potatoes with Bordeaux mixture roughly once a fortnight from the end of June, to protect against blight. I use an organic garlic spray on the peas to keep pea moths away and prevent maggots. I have had to use Diphane on the black spot fungus on a pear and an apple tree, even though it's not organic, but I understand it is the only thing that gets rid of it.

3. Water - depending on the weather of course, July was very dry and I think even though they got plenty of watering the potatoes have suffered, and the onions aren't as big or as prolific as last year.

4. Put straw under courgettes, pumpkins and squashes, to protect them from the ground and getting nibbled.

5. I will possibly be putting some late beetroot and carrots in, and it will, by the end of the month be time to think about putting over wintering onion sets and some more broad beans in, as well as garlic.

Harvest time

Some of the vegetables we have been harvesting recently:

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Recycling in the Allotment

Allotment owners are known for re-using and recycling otherwise throwaway items in the plot.

As well as the items below we have an old bath for rainwater, and old kettle for watering and some large plastic tubs for rainwater/comfrey feed.

These are some of the things that we have either recycled from our own redundant items or salvaged from other people's:

Swing frame for beans
This old swing frame was given to us by a friend and we use it to provide an ideal structure for beans to climb up. In the middle we have added some canes to give extra support and climbing opportunities!

Compost bin
This compost bin was made from old fence panels from the garden. The fence kept blowing down so we replaced it with a hedge and used 4 panels to made a large compost bin.

                            This kneeling mat was made from an old cool bag, the advertising is unintentional!
Kneeling mat

Monday 1 July 2013

New season fruit and veg

Will do some photos soon, but the fine weather, coupled with a little bit of overnight rain is really bringing on the allotment.

The first new season veg were broad beans and lettuce
Next up some strawberries (must be Wimbledon then!)
and blackcurrants
and some very nice calabrese
and, just when we're down to the last 3 onions in store, the first onions and garlic - so all year round onions!

Was a bit worried about the mildew on one of the apples (I think the Falstaff) and a bit of black spot fungus, but with the application of Diphane945 it seems to be clearing up.

I try to do as much as possible organic, but as Diphane945 is the only think that will cure black spot fungus I have to use it. 

Sunday 16 June 2013

Wine tasting and bottling

Today was wine day! After three months of sitting in the bedroom very very slowly bubbling, it was time to see whether the parsnip wine was actually wine at all rather than a demijohn full of what seemed to be pretty clear liquid and a small layer of gloop at the bottom.

So, the first thing was to try it

It actually tastes of wine! Quite a bit of a kick to it as well! (I was warned about this by a local farmer I met recently!)

The next stage is to syphon (or rack in wine parlance) the wine off the sediment into another demijohn. Now, syphoning isn't something I have tried very often, so this was going to be a challenge. 

With the demijohn containing the wine on the table, and an empty (but sterilised) demijohn on the floor, and a length of tubing (which had a little tap control on the end) between - again sterilised, here goes...

The first couple of attempts resulted in the wine not quite going over the top of the loop of tube, but then all was flowing nicely - the trick was to get the wine into the length of the tube, quickly stop the tap, wipe the end (as it had been in my mouth) and then drop into the neck of the demijohn. 

As the level in the first demijohn goes down, it is useful to tip up very gently to get the remaining wine out. It is better if you can have help with this whole process, otherwise you would end up trying to be in two places at once. The idea is to make sure none of the gloop ends up in the wine, if it does another racking would be required. 

Having successfully got the, now quite clear, wine into the second demijohn, it was time to bottle the wine. 

I had saved a number of bottles of different sizes (as I just want to have a glass or two rather than having to open a full bottle each time), so again the process of racking was repeated, this time into bottles.

Now the tricky bit is not getting the liquid flowing into the bottle, it is stopping the flow in time as the liquid approaches the neck of bottle, or in my case, overflows and ends up on one's trousers!

However, 9 bottles later, including two normal sized ones, and all the wine is then corked up (I use plastic topped screw corks, again sterilised) and laid to rest for another 3-6 months to improve the quality. However, it is drinkable now and I may just have a bottle or two before then!

Friday 3 May 2013

Planting Cauliflowers

It is time to plant out the cauliflowers in the allotment.

First, I cleared the area of weeds, making sure I got out the long tap roots of docks.

Then I dug holes about 3-4 inches deep with a trowel, spacing these about 10 inches or so apart. (I plant in patches rather than rows for brassicas)

The cauliflower plants were all popped in the holes, leaving the plug of compost on them as to not disturb the roots, and then the holes filled with liquid feed made from comfrey leaves to add a bit of fertilizer.

I then back-filled the holes with soil - as it was evening when I planted these, I ensured that dry soil was on the surface, as wet soil overnight would just attract slugs.

 I then pressed down on the soil around the plants
to firmly support the plants.

I will water the plants again in the morning as the forecast is warm and dry for the next few days.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Signs of Spring!

At last! Spring is here, or at least its having a jolly good go.... The damson and pear trees are in blossom, and the apples and blueberries soon will be.
Sand Martins are flying up and down the river, and there's a few house martins and swallows as well.

The last of the winter crops still in the allotment are some leeks, the last of the parsnips we have let go to seed for next year. This patch is going to be brassicas this year and there's already some overwintered cabbage and lettuce in. 

The second patch, which was peas and beans last year, is now onions and garlic, and there will be carrots to sow soon. There's japanese (overwintered) onions and overwintered garlic and there's more onion sets coming on.

The third patch is the fruit bushes and I really need to pull some of the rhubarb.

Next down is peas and beans, with some overwintered broad beans setting flowers already and plenty of peas in. On the edge of this patch is hopefully an asparagus bed but there's no signs of life yet.

Last patch is potatoes this year, 4 rows in so far, at weekly intervals.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Birds in the Allotment

One of my hobbies is birdwatching, and over the time we have had the allotment, the variety of birds either in or flying over the allotment has been considerable.

In the allotments

Linnet                            Blue Tit
Goldfinch                       Great Tit
Chaffinch                       Coal Tit
Greenfinch                     Long Tailed Tit
Bullfinch                        Dunnock
House Sparrow             Robin
Carrion Crow                Rook
Jackdaw                       Collared Dove
Woodpigeon                 Sparrowhawk
Common Gull                Black-Headed Gull
Mistle Thrush                Song Thrush
Redwing                       Blackbird
Starling                         Tree Sparrow
Magpie                         Wren
Chiffchaff                      Pied Wagtail

Over the allotments

Peregrine Falcon           Red Kite
Heron                           Cuckoo (about 4 years ago)
Canada Goose              Greylag Goose
Cormorant                     Lapwing
Oystercatcher                Curlew
Buzzard                         Mallard
Mute Swan                    Swallow
Swift                              House Martin
Sand Martin                   Skylark
Meadow Pipit

(also possible Whooper Swan and Pink Footed Geese)

In the wider area I have recorded about 70 species including Woodcock, various warblers and winter visitors such as Waxwing

Monday 18 March 2013

Winter again!

18th of March and woke up to a good covering of snow! Not unprecedented though but right now we should be expecting Spring! It is the duration of the cold weather that's really quite unusual though, cold easterly winds and nothing expected to change much for the next two weeks. This time last year we had 25 deg C about now, but that was indeed the only summer we got!

So, we've had three cold winters out of the past 4 years, which is actually rather normal, although winters 09/10 and 10/11 did have some really quite severe cold snaps with snow for a fortnight and -13 to -16 deg C at one point at night.

But going from 25 deg C last March to a summer with nothing but rain

and then having the cold winter last into Spring, really is making problems for farmers and growers. I don't think we did too bad last year with the potatoes, they lasted until Christmas whereas I know that agricultural yields not just for potatoes were well down on normal. I even heard of sheep getting foot-rot from standing in flooded fields for too long.

Now, the cold means that many farmers, already losing money from having to buy in animal fodder, the various animal diseases going round, now find they can't plant seeds for this year.
We would normally have got parsnip seeds in by now and started germinating seeds etc. but it's too cold.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Parsnip Wine Making - part 2

Well, I finally got around to making parsnip wine. Or should I say parsnip and sultanas wine as the raisins make the wine taste a lot better, or so I am told!

Some links are on my earlier post

Anyway, I started with 2kg (4lb) of parsnips, 1.25kg (2.5lb) sugar, 0.5kg (1lb) sultanas, 7g (0.25oz) of citric acid (lemon juice) and 1 UK gal (4.5 litres) of water.

First step was to dig up the parsnips! And then scrub and scrub them again. But not peel!

That's what 2kg of parsnips looks like!

Now to chop them up, not too small

And then boil them for approx 15 minutes with the sugar, you want them softer but not in any way mushy. 

I had to do them in two batches as I didn't have a pan big enough. 

So, once cooler I poured the mixture of parsnips, sugar and water into the plastic pail...

I then added the sultanas and citric acid and the remainder of the water to bring up to 1 Gallon, as well as the Campden tablet

A day later I added the yeast and yeast nutrient and it only too about another 24 hours for there to be visible signs of fermentation. 

I now took a reading on the hygrometer, and it was right in the middle of the blue bit that said "start wine". Which was a relief! Though I am still a little confused as this seems to be between 1.070 and 1.090. whereas you are supposed to start between 1.095 and 1.110. However a quick search on Google and a bit of head scratching showed that there's correction factors for temperature, volume of wine etc so it seemed to be ok And it was in the right range on the actual hygrometer!

The plastic pail lived in a corner of the bedroom for 3 days, in hindsight it should have been slightly warmer as the fermentation did slow down a bit. 

However, now came the awkward bit. With the help of one of my daughters (money changed hands!) we filtered the mixture into a demijohn using a plastic funnel with a sieve placed inside the funnel. Not an easy thing to do, as the plastic pail is quite heavy and there is a danger of a stray piece of parsnip or sultana falling into the demijohn off the side of the funnel! If that happens, pour the mixture back into the pail and start again. 

You will need to scrape the sieve out quite frequently as the holes get clogged up. 

So, after about half an hour or so of careful pouring and cleaning out the sieve we managed it, and fitted the airlock. In the top of the airlock (the u-shaped bit) I poured a small bit of water and within a short space of time the gas from the wine pushed the water up to one side. (Once no gas is being given off, fermentation has ended and this water will be level)

So the wine is now sitting in the demijohn, plopping away every so often as the bubbles come up and there's a small thermometer on the side reading 20.5 deg C which is a bit warmer than in the pail as the demijohn is smaller and can be put a little closer to the radiator. Don't go over 30 deg C or you'll kill the yeast and below about 10 deg C the fermentation would slow down or even stop - there was a noticeable difference between 20 and 15 degrees C in the pail.

So, in 3 months time I should have some wine ready for bottling but it depends on the dryness, I may need to add more sugar and ferment a bit longer as I am not keen on dry wines. 

Sunday 20 January 2013


Hacking parsnips out of the ground again! As with most of England we have snow and frost just now, -8 deg C last week, so the ground is a wee bit frozen!

Wilkinsons have expanded their range of wine making and home brew kit, was in their shop in Northallerton last week and got quite a nice surprise as I was expecting to have to trawl the internet to get what I needed for wine making, but it was all in one place to get!
So I spent about £30 and got a large plastic tub with lid, another demijohn (I already have one), tubing, yeast, a hygrometer, yeast food, campden tablets, a funnel and something else which I think is for clearing the wine.

Why all this? Well shortly I want to try parsnip wine making, we deliberately planted an extra row of parsnips this year so as we can try this.

Here goes with various snippets from the internet

10-20 mins boiling
Having had great success with elderberries last year, I'm just making some parsnip now. I've sort-of averaged a load of recipes I've found, and come up with:
4lb parsnips srubbed and sliced, boiled about 25 mins, strained onto 3lb sugar (1lb is dark brown coz I happened to have that in the cupboard, should add an interesting colour), about 1/2lb chopped raisins and 2Tbsp citric acid. When that's simmered for about 40 minutes I'll put it in a fermenting bin with a crushed Campden tablet and leave it to cool to 21C. Then pectolase, yeast nutrient, and yeast; stir daily for 10 days; rack into a demijohn. Then the long wait...