I’ve been upgraded!

This week I was offered a larger plot at the allotments: a half size plot. Mine is a microplot and they’re meant to be only temporary. Microplots are 50m2 while a half plot is 150m2. I was very pleased to get the offer because my plot isn’t getting much sun now. I also think a half size plot is more manageable for me than a full size one. I went to investigate yesterday and was very impressed. The new plot has lots of garden beds already, although they were full of weeds but still in much better shape than the microplot was when I took over. I also found heaps of onions and garlic ready for harvest. I wonder why the previous person left without harvesting their vegetables? They also left lots of useful garden tools, a shed, and a glasshouse.

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The shed is in bad shape. The roof was leaking and there was a pool of water on the floor inside. Thankfully my father is visiting and I put him to work today to replace the roof. This should cover his board 😉

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He has done a terrific job so far. The old roof has come off and some new plywood nailed in place to make a new roof. All that’s left is to put some roof felt on but we’ll do that next week.

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Here are some of the onions and garlic I dug up.

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Alien eggs in the backyard

Alien eggs in the backyard

Recently I spotted what had to be an alien’s eggs incubating in our backyard.

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So naturally, I decided not to disturb them.

A little while later I went back and they’d “hatched’ but there was nothing to see other than a tiny slug. I’m pretty sure that’s a slug and not alien spawn.

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Today I found another one in a different spot but this time something was growing out of it.

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I guess they’re some kind of mushroom. Does anyone know? The stem looks rather like styrofoam.

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It’s not as exciting as an alien but very unusual to my eyes.

Is this a scene from a horror film?

Is this a scene from a horror film?

In keeping with my earlier proclamation about not giving a rat’s arse about what anyone else thinks, behold the uninhibited Rachel looking like a dork and wearing pyjamas.

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I ate all that green stuff just after the photo was taken. It’s produce from my plot at the allotment which is where I went in the pouring rain earlier in the day. Going to the allotment is like going to the grocery store but you don’t have to pay anything to take some food away.

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I can’t say I particularly like raw kale but something I have come to realise lately is that the stuff we like and the stuff we need are not the same. Unfortunately we need green vegetables more than chocolate. It’s a painful fact and one I will have to accept.

But never fear! I still had my fill of sweet treats for the day because as part of my donation to the Bonobo Kickstarter campaign I got a free cake which we picked up today. They made me a vegan sponge cake which was superb. Ben went and picked it up but carried it home in his backpack so it doesn’t look quite as good as it did originally however it’s still delicious.

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Cauliflower cheese without cheese

I’m not that into cooking however I like eating and I know I need to eat more fresh vegetables and fewer processed vegan meals. Last night I made a vegan version of cauliflower cheese that tasted wonderful and was very easy to make so I thought I’d share it.

Someone at the allotments gave me a huge, fresh cauliflower and I got it home and wondered what to do with it. What do you do with cauliflower? I decided to bake it but baked cauliflower on its own is pretty boring so I made this lovely sauce to go with it.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 dessert spoons tahini
  • 1/2-1 cup of ground cashew nuts
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • water

I put the garlic and a bit of water in a saucepan and cooked them for a few minutes before adding everything else. I then added more water until I was happy with the consistency of the sauce. I’m not sure exactly how much water I added but possibly a cup or two. Then I poured it over my cauliflower and baked it in the oven. I can’t remember how long for – maybe 10-15 minutes? The cauliflower was still crunchy which is how I like it.

I prefer gardening and crochet to cooking and fortunately I have plenty of gardens to tend to including our plot at the allotment. I find weeding strangely therapeutic. Sometimes I fall asleep at night imaging pulling out buttercups which is very soothing and sends me off to sleep.

We got our plot in April and here’s how it looked:

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In June it looked like this:

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And now in August all the weeds are finally under control and it looks like this:

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A harvest of four carrots

I was horrified last week when one of the other plotters at the allotments told me the growing season is almost over. We really haven’t got very much food from our plot. Today I harvested our carrots. All four of them 🙂

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You may be wondering why we only got four carrots and I’m embarrassed to admit this but it’s because I got a little carried away with the weeding not long after sowing the seeds. It reminds me of the time I accidentally ordered a single carrot from online shopping.

Rule number 1 of allotment gardening: don’t weed out the legitimate vegetable seedlings. 

I planted about a dozen kale seedlings a few weeks ago and all but one has completely vanished. I put them under bird netting so I can’t blame the birds. I suspect it was snails or slugs.

Rule number 2 of allotment gardening: don’t plant kale seedlings out until they’re larger than 5cm high.

Rule number 3 of allotment gardening: birds eat kale.

I wish I had planted more broccoli because that has been doing well and we’re enjoying eating it. The kids like it too and eat it raw.

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I highly recommend the no dig method of gardening. I had a small patch of grass that I covered over with cardboard a couple of months ago. I started piling weeds on top, partly to stop the cardboard blowing away and also because my compost bin was full. Today I shoved the pile to one side to find a lovely patch of soil, without any weeds or grass, and full of small organisms. Here it is in this next photo: the square of dark soil is the earth that I uncovered when I removed the pile of cardboard and weeds. Previously it was just grass.

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The growing season may be over for some but I’m going to continue through the winter. My favourite crops are green leafy vegetables and these can be grown all year round. I also sowed some parsnips today. I’m told they won’t grow because it’s too late in the season but I’m going to try anyway. If it doesn’t work I’ll know for next year.

Rocket seeds and stick insects

I’ve been waiting for my rocket to produce seeds for months and months and months and finally some seed pods have emerged. I’m not sure how or why it took so long because it has been flowering for ages now and I just assumed the seeds would be in the flowers but they weren’t. Today I opened up one of the pods and there are seeds in there. Now to see whether they’ll grow.

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I’ve solved the problem of my stick insect population getting out of hand by getting rid of the mesh enclosure. I don’t keep the insects contained at all now. Instead they can roam freely in the laundry and beyond, if they dare. However there’s no food for them anywhere but the laundry so if they leave it they will die. I have several vases of ivy which they can eat. This makes it easy for me to find the eggs and squish them. I don’t know how many insects we have but it’s nice seeing them hanging around the place. When they were in the mesh cage I couldn’t really see them and I had no hope of finding eggs at the bottom.

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Sometimes I’ll find them in another part of the house. They can travel quite a long way for such a small creature but I simply pick them up and take them back. Mostly they just stay in the laundry even though I don’t shut them in there.

Frank Spencer at the allotments

Frank Spencer at the allotments

I went to the allotment today to assemble a small cage I purchased to keep the pigeons off the vegetables. I bought what I thought was an easy click-together frame but when I pulled it out I discovered screws and I hadn’t taken a screwdriver with me. Who carries a screwdriver around with them? I got increasingly frustrated slotting poles together only to see them fall out again as soon as I let go. At one point I had it in one piece but upside-down and when I tried to right it everything fell apart again. It was like an episode of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em but with me playing the part of Frank Spencer.

Just when I was about to give up, Graeme, another plot-holder, came to the rescue and helped me put it together. Graeme had a screwdriver. Here’s the end result.

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Thank you, Graeme. I couldn’t have done it without you. Here’s Graeme with his newly harvested potatoes.

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My slug beer traps have been very effective. Here are the slugs I’ve caught in one week.

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Our allotment two months later

Our allotment two months later

I spent several hours at the allotment this morning. Our plot still needs a lot of work but when I compare the now photo with the before photo I realise we have come a long way. Here’s how it looked in April:

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Here’s how it looks today:

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Now I just need to turn it into food. Right now I’m mostly feeding the resident slug population. My kale has been decimated:

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I have a three-pronged strategy in my war against the slugs. Firstly, I bought some nematodes which are microorganisms that infect slugs and kill them. I watered that into the soil today so hopefully I’ll see some improvements in the coming weeks. Secondly, I put out some beer traps which will attract the snails and drown them. Thirdly, I put down some strulch. Strulch is a straw mulch that repels slugs and snails. I put it on the garden at home. It reduces the number of weeds and helps retain soil moisture. It also smells lovely. Poisonous slug pellets are best avoided. I’ve heard they can be eaten by small animals and then the small animals are eaten by larger animals causing the poison to travel up the food chain getting more and more concentrated. The poisons have also been found in streams and rivers.

Here is one of the beer traps:

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It’s fair to say our allotment is the worst one there except for this one but it doesn’t look like anyone is tending to this one so it doesn’t really count.

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On being smug, blaming Pepper Pig for cavities in teeth, and three solutions to all the world’s problems

I was planning to be all smug in this post and write about how vegans can make their own milk from a packet of soy beans while non-vegans have to find a cow to milk. Unfortunately my first attempt at making soy milk created a watery and slightly gritty mess. I tipped it down the sink. I milked a cow once and it was easier. I’ll go back to buying soy milk from the supermarket.

Elizabeth told me recently that Pepper Pig is to blame for her cavities. A few years ago the dentist found three cavities in Elizabeth’s mouth. This was a shock to all the rest of us who have near perfect teeth. She now has three stainless steel caps on her back baby teeth – they’ll fall out when she’s about 10. Since that episode both children floss their teeth everyday. What has this got to do with Pepper Pig? Apparently when Pepper Pig brushes her teeth she just goes back and forth across the front and doesn’t clean the back teeth and Elizabeth says she was copying Pepper Pig and not cleaning the back teeth. I was all prepared to take the blame myself but if Pepper Pig is a willing scapegoat I’m not going to stand in her way.

I went to the allotment last Saturday after a two-week hiatus and I was expecting to see it completely overgrown with weeds. Much to my delight and gratitude a whole section was freshly dug and ready for me to plant some seedlings. There are volunteers who work at the allotments doing things like digging, painting, and various other jobs and someone had cleared a patch of weeds in our plot. Isn’t that amazing! I think some of the volunteers might be on a waiting list for their own plot while others like the work but don’t want the responsibility and maybe some are looking for a place to bury a body. Whatever the reason I feel very fortunate to be a part of this community. Every country should have allotments for its citizens. Imagine if impoverished countries had something like this? It could go a long way to solving the problems of hunger and malnutrition. I have a three solutions for most of the world’s problems: cycling, veganism, and allotments.

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The Trojan Slug

It’s frustrating to watch seeds germinate and then grow only to see them eaten by slugs a week later. In an attempt to outwit the slugs, yesterday I moved two trays of seedlings inside overnight and put them on our dining table. When I woke up this morning I saw telltale signs of slug dining: there were more leaves missing and a silvery trail on the dirt.

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I lifted up one of the trays and this is what I saw:

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I’m such a moron. I brought the slug inside with the seedlings and he spent the night munching away on our dining table! I’ve been outwitted by an invertebrate.

Inside my greenhouse

Inside my greenhouse

It’s a lovely drizzly day today. I cycled to Newton Dee thinking I’d have the bike path all to myself but there were lots of people there – dog walkers, cyclists, and joggers. I love it when it’s overcast and I don’t have to squint. Squinting is annoying because it gives me wrinkles and somehow squinting and frowning affects my mood. Try relaxing the muscles in your face except for those that make you smile for about 30 seconds and see how you feel. Now frown and squint for 30 seconds and see how you feel. It’s much more pleasant to smile and not frown, don’t you think?

I took a photo of Busby, my trusty steed, outside Newton Dee.

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I’ve got seedlings growing in abundance in my glasshouse right now. All the plants in this next photo were grown from seed.

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My tomatoes were also grown from seed and one of them is beginning to flower.

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These are carrots in this next photo and also grown from seed. I’ve never grown carrots before so not sure how they’ll turn out.

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We’ve got an allotment!

We’ve got an allotment!

About a year ago I applied for an allotment and just this week got the call to say there’s one available. Allotments are a very British thing. They have been around for hundreds of years, since Anglo-Saxon times, according to The National Allotment Society. In Victorian times they were handed over to poor people as a way for them to feed themselves. During the second world war they became an important food supply for the nation; “Dig for Victory” was the slogan at that time. Everyone was encouraged to grow vegetables and parks everywhere were converted into allotments for this purpose.

Most of us have enough food to eat today but allotments are still very popular and some people sit on waiting lists for years before they get one. I think it’s important for communities to grow their own food. It builds resistance for times of need and it will play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Growing your own vegetables is also intensely satisfying and good fun.

The microplot they’ve offered me is in a sad state. Here’s a photo:

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I don’t plan to dig up all that grass. I think I’ll try the no dig approach or lasagne gardening, as I think it is also known.

Inside my greenhouse

Inside my greenhouse

I’m so excited by all the things growing in my greenhouse. I’ve never had a greenhouse before but I can see what useful things they are. It’s much easier to grow from seed because the greenhouse offers some protection from birds and pests. You can also control the amount of water they get. I planted a couple of young seedlings outside and the ones in the greenhouse are much larger and healthier. It’s also so warm in the greenhouse that I sometimes go and sit and relax in there. There’s even a bicycle plant growing up from the floor.

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Not a true Australian

Not a true Australian

Recently one of the dads at school was telling me how he’d played professional rugby as a teenager. He said he got to play against some really great players and then listed off a few names. I could tell by his tone that I was supposed to be impressed by this and that these were people I should have heard of and so I pretended to be wowed but I had no idea who he was talking about. Later I relayed the conversation to Ben and because I couldn’t quite remember the names I said the closest names I could remember: something like Lumos and Kamekaze. Ben roared with laughter. Apparently I should know who Jonah Lomu and David Campese are. Obviously, I’m not a true Australian.

The wool “slug gone” pellets I tried are useless. This week I started to notice holes in my pak choi.

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Then I saw the tell-tale sign of slime right on top of the wool pellets.

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The cheeky bugger crawled right across the top of them! The other night I decided to wait until dark and then go and investigate with a torch. It was very timely because just as I went into the greenhouse I saw the antenna of a giant blank slug just about to crawl over the side of the raised garden bed. That’s the end of midnight feasting in my greenhouse for that slug. Now I just need someone to stand guard all night long in the greenhouse.

Turkey neck and gardening

Turkey neck and gardening

I’m trying to reduce the amount of sugar I eat, partly for health reasons and partly for vanity. I’m starting to notice the wrinkles more and more and – dare I admit it, a turkey neck! – and sugar ages you. I’ll never be able to give up chocolate but sugar sneaks into things that don’t need it like breakfast cereals. There’s nothing worse than muesli with sugar in it or tea with sugar in it. Yuk. I no longer have any sugar on porridge either, instead opting just for fresh fruit. However, I love jam on toast and jam is packed with sugar.

Recently I discovered these fruit spreads that don’t contain any sugar, other than the natural sugar in the fruit they’re made with.

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The flavour reminds me a bit of baby food but it’s much thicker, less watery, and has a richer taste. Both the Biona and Suma are very good and I can’t pick which I prefer. They’re both deliciously tart.

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The first signs of spring are popping up here with snowdrops and crocuses appearing all over the place. My greenhouse is also starting to get a lot of sun during the day and feeling nice and warm inside so I’ve started sewing seeds again. I planted a lot of seeds and as usual I can’t remember what I planted. I’m pretty sure there’s broccoli and spinach in this lot.

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After doing nothing all winter my pak choi is also starting to take off. I put wool pellets around the edges of this garden bed in the hope it will deter slugs and snails. None of them have woken from winter yet so I’m not sure if it will work but it did make the greenhouse smell like sheep which was rather nice.

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These are the wool pellets. Has anyone used these before? Do they work?

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Here’s the view from the cycle path today.

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A prickly thistle

Last August I planted an apple tree in the school garden. Since then I’ve watched with dismay as all the branches have slowly been ripped off. I don’t think the children are doing this to deliberately destroy the tree. It’s just that they’re playing there and it gets knocked about and they grab onto it as part of their play. There’s no play equipment in the playground so they play in the gardens.

This morning I couldn’t bear it any longer and so I dug up the tree and planted it in my garden at home. It may already be too late as it’s mostly just a trunk now. I hope it survives. Now I’m thinking something prickly for the school garden is the way to go. Maybe a thistle? Did you know that the thistle is the national flower of Scotland? Most people think of the thistle as a weed but they produce some attractive flowers like this blue one:

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Source: http://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/plant-finder/echinops-ritro-veitchs-blue/

I was thinking of getting some of those. They’re called Veitch’s Blue. It’s either that or a cactus. Is that a good idea?

Accessorising with snow

It was snowing when I dropped the kids at school today. I love it when it snows. Snow is not wet like rain and this morning I discovered it makes a nice hair accessory.

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As you can see I’m holding a Doctor Who magazine – there’s a story behind this. We gifted Daniel a subscription to Doctor Who Adventures for his birthday but I stuffed up and accidentally subscribed to the adult version. There was much gnashing of teeth from him when he realised he must wait even longer for his first magazine with free gift to show up. I think he’s more interested in the free gift. I was able to switch my subscription over to the children’s version except that it’s much cheaper and so we’ve had to subscribe to it for four years now!

It’s still cold but the days are getting longer and it’s time to start planting seeds for spring. Elizabeth planted some sweet peas a week or so ago and they’re doing nicely.

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I’m not sure how long they’ll be able to survive in little pots but I can’t plant them outside until April or May.

Ice-cream or kale, anyone?

Ice-cream or kale, anyone?

On three separate occasions in the past month, pedestrians have called out to me asking for an ice-cream as I cycle by. Does Harald look like an ice-cream bike?

Harald:

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Pashley Classic No. 33:

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Oh dear! So much for looking cool and trendy.

Pak Choi. What a wonderful vegetable. I’ve been craving leafy greens recently and so I decided to try growing pak choi and spinach. I already have kale in abundance. Kale grows anywhere and with little effort.  Here’s some of my kale:

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My experience with pak choi so far is also good. The seeds germinate faster than any I’ve ever seen. These ones only took about 3 days:

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Apparently it’s a good winter plant so I’m hoping to have a constant supply over the winter months. Most of it is growing in the greenhouse but that’s probably not necessary since I think it will survive outside. I also have some in my kitchen on a sunny windowsill. The pak choi is on the very left, rocket in the middle, and basil on the right. I put the cling film over the top to see whether they’d grow faster.

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Growing your own food is fun and rewarding. It also tastes better. Maybe it’s just bias or maybe it’s because the food is fresher.

A hedgehog house

A hedgehog house

We got a hedgehog house for our garden. I hope a hedgehog finds it suitable and moves in. I think it looks very inviting. That old pot next to it has been dragged with us all over the world, from city to city and country to country. I think we got it in Christchurch.

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My war with the slugs and snails continues. I haven’t lost any of my new seedlings so far but I do put a lid over this compartment each night.

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I planted a sweet pea in an old bicycle basket a couple of months ago and put it in the glasshouse. It’s grown a bit out of control but there aren’t as many flowers on it as I’d hoped; maybe it hasn’t reached its peak yet. I love reusing old baskets and containers as flower pots.

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Doctor Who, Sherlock, and drowning in beer

Doctor Who, Sherlock, and drowning in beer

We introduced the kids to the 2005 Series of Doctor Who last weekend and it was an instant hit. They haven’t seen any Doctor Who before and now they’re fans for life. I wouldn’t be surprised if Daniel gets himself a Tardis one day. The special effects haven’t changed much in 40 years and some of the aliens look like they’re wearing recycled Teletubbies costumes but that’s all part of the appeal. If it wasn’t funny and borderline silly, kids would find it scary.

Ben and I also started watching the BBC’s Sherlock which has my favourite actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, in it. He’s the best actor of his generation and he’s brilliant as Sherlock Holmes. Martin Freeman is equally superb as Doctor Watson. The screenplay is also very good and funny in parts. How have I not discovered this show before?

I have good news regarding the war with Mr. Slug. A couple of days ago I put some bowls of beer in the greenhouse and look what I’ve caught so far:

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1 snail
1 slug
1 wasp
3 x unknown flying insects

I did feel a bit bad about the snail and the slug but I suppose there are worse ways to go than drowning in beer.