Saturday, 29 March 2008

Our Earth Hour

I hope everyone who marked Earth Hour this evening enjoyed their hour without electric light. We turned off our lights and appliances between 8 and 9 pm and enjoyed a game of candlelight scrabble.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Bank Holiday Weekend

Back to school and work today after the four day break. Just two more weeks and then the schools break up for the holidays. This new arrangement for the school terms will take some getting used to, especially as the holidays are still being referred to as the Easter holidays.

We've enjoyed (?) a mixture of weather including hail, snow, strong winds, heavy rain and briefly some blue skies and sunshine.

It was not the weather for watching sport and while my younger son got chilled to the bone running around in shorts I decided the best place for me and my knitting was inside the car.

As the snow and the temperature fell the car misted up which apparently was a good thing because nobody could see that I was knitting which would have been so embarrassing! - just thought I'd mention it in case you are thinking of knitting near teenagers, its really not cool!

Of course Easter is traditionally the time that the serious gardening starts and the allotments are usually busy. I didn't even get down there this weekend but there was some planting in the garden as I spent my birthday money.

Firstly, some herbs, chives, coriander, and two types of thyme.

These were planted in the front garden as the chickens have almost destroyed the ones in the back garden. I didn't realise how much I used my herbs, particularly the thyme, until they were gone. Hopefully these will establish quickly so that I can start picking again.

The back garden addition was another small apple tree.

This variety is called Sunset and is similar to a Cox. It is on a small rootstock and will only reach 10 ft in 10 years. I decided that if the chickens were going to eat nearly everything I grew at ground level then I could still produce some food for us by planting a tree. They did seem to be very interested in this new addition and "helped" with the planting.

I now have three small apple trees, four if you count the crab apple, in a very small garden which is probably all I can sensibly fit in, but then if I wasn't being sensible I could probably fit in another one!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Spinach, salad and rhubarb

Today has been a cold but sunny day, just right for catching up with all the washing and then this afternoon spending some time at the allotment. As colder weather is forecast for the weekend I decided to postpone seed sowing for a while until the soil has had a chance to warm slightly but I did spend some time forking over the bed where the leeks are being harvested and doing some general tidying up.

I have been harvesting leeks throughout the winter but now as the days are lengthening there were some young spinach beet leaves

and some "self sown"lambs lettuce to be picked.

The lambs lettuce is particularly welcome. I have been quite good about not buying imported salad stuff this winter but I miss not having something green to put in sandwiches and I am getting fed up with sprouted seeds!

The fastest growing plant at the moment is the rhubarb.

I didn't pick any today as it could do with growing just a bit more but it won't be long now and then I will feel that it really is spring.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

A travelling plant

While we were driving on the motorway this weekend I noticed patches of pale pink flowers along the verge and also in the central reservation. The plant is Danish Scurvy Grass and it flowers from February to June. I don't have any photographs (obviously as it was growing in the middle of a busy motorway!) but I found some pictures here. It gets its name because the leaves contain high levels of vitamin C and in the past it was eaten to prevent scurvy.

Its natural habitat is in coastal areas where it can withstand the salty windy environment. Until fairly recently it was rarely found inland although it was occasionally spread along railway lines as the ballast that supported the sleepers often came from the coast and seeds were carried along with it.

Over the last twenty years or so it has colonised the centre of motorways as they provide a suitable environment for growth. Salting the roads in the winter leads to a build up of salt in the soil which makes it unsuitable for some inland plants but perfect for a plant adapted to coastal conditions. It is thought that a few plants grew on the verges of roads near the coast and then the winds and turbulence created by passing traffic dispersed the seeds along the motorway corridor.

I think it is amazing how this little plant has spread throughout the country in such a short time taking advantage of new environments with the right conditions for growth. What a plucky little plant, it looks so delicate yet it thrives in really harsh situations and what a good example of how to make the most of changing environmental conditions.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

March winds

March winds and April showers

bring forth May flowers

Although the storms earlier in the week did not affect us directly, commutes to school and work were disrupted by train cancellations and we did have a little upset in the garden.

The washing line must have been weakened by rust and the strong winds were the final straw snapping the main pole.

Oh dear, more expense, but on balance, drying the washing outside must be cheaper than buying, maintaining and running a tumble drier.

The nursery rhyme may put winds in March and showers in April but we've definitely had both together. The ground is completely water-logged. The chickens seem to love it, they may look very innocent in this photo but just look what they have done to my "lawn"!

I am still waiting for some warmer weather when the grass might grow faster than it gets eaten. Until then I shall try to ignore the muddy patches and look instead at some of the March flowers.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Simple Cooking

Its been a while since I last posted. I was away at the start of the week visiting my parents. Arriving home part way through the week completely threw my routine. It feels as if I have spent all my time just trying to catch up.

I was glad that we didn't have anything planned this weekend and I could spend time pottering in the house. It seemed the right sort of day for some slow cooking.

Using my slow cooker (crock pot) I cooked a small piece of gammon ham with some potatoes and a few cloves for eight hours, adding a tin of butter beans about half-way through. All day long it smelt lovely and then at dinner time all I had to do was cook some fresh vegetables and serve.
Adding the beans bulked it out a bit and I managed to save some of the meat for tomorrow. I've decided on a pie, ham in white sauce topped with flaky pastry. In this case, slowing down has actually saved me time - can't be bad!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Sunny days for spring planting

February set a new weather record in the UK, it was the sunniest February recorded. According to the Met Office there were 101.6 hours of sunshine in the last four weeks beating the high of 94.4 hours in 1970. We have also had milder winter temperatures, between December and February, the mean temperature was 4.8 Celsius (40.6 Fahrenheit), 1.1 degrees above the long-term average.

Plants and birds here seem to have noticed the difference. While most of the trees and hedges are still bare, there are individual hawthorn and blackthorn shrubs beginning to green up.

The birds have started nest building . We have robins building a nest in an evergreen climber (Trachelospermum jasminoides) growing up the back of our house. In previous years birds have nested in shrubs in our garden and we have watched birds going to and fro with beaks full of twigs and moss. Unfortunately, nearly always the neighbouring cats find the nest. We see a mess of feathers and the parent birds move elsewhere. This time though I am hopeful for this pair of robins, the nest is about eight feet off the ground and would seem to be in a safe position.

At my allotment I have started planting a few things early as the weather has been so mild but most seed packets suggest March as the month to start sowing and I have been patiently waiting.

The beds have been forked over and raked and now March is here I can get to work. Most of my seeds are sown straight into the ground but I also fill window sills with tender plants.

These pepper seedlings are the first this year, they have been in the airing cupboard for a few days to start germination and are now on the kitchen window sill. Their place in the airing cupboard has been taken by some tomato seeds, its a bit of a production line here at the moment.