7 Jun 2010

The Bee's Knees

I have some new residents on my allotment...some bees have moved into my chamomile bed.  They must think my plot is the bee's knees! Well they won't have to travel far carrying pollen on their knees as they have moved right next to the borage bed! In fact two borage plants are growing in the chamomile bed (seeds blown from last year). Well, the bees are more than welcome. I doubt I will have problems with pollination this year!  I'll have to take care not to disturb them which isn't a problem. I don't dig the raised beds - I just add compost and green manure mulches. I'll take care not to cover the entrance to the hive.  I have two beds for borage this year, so they will be pleased when they flower.

The allotment has been a bit neglected this year. I have been so busy creating paintings and jewellery amongst other things that I haven't had the time to visit. I sowed some seeds the last time I was there (shamefully two weeks ago) but the weather has been so dry lately, and I haven't been able to find the time to visit to water them.  If I lived closer or had transport I would visit more often, but it takes me nearly an hour to get there and back.

Last year I started some plants off at home. I live in a flat and I don't have a garden or a yard.  I had to grow them in my bedroom as it is the only window that gets the sun (but only late afternoon). The plants would lean towards the window and grow leggy. Also I ended up with an infestation of flies ( probably from the compost). Not very nice in the bedroom! So this year I decided to sow direct instead. I wasn't expecting such dry weather though! This is very unusual for this corner of the world! It's better than the relentless rain of last year though. The perfect weather would be a good balance of sunshine and rain rather than long dry spells and long wet spells.

 This is a salad with rocket, dill, purple sage, green sage, oregano, golden oregano, thyme, chives, chive flowers and rocket flowers. Very tasty!

The herb spiral is doing really well. The lavender has grown so large that it has grown over the rosemary..poor rosemary! It is just about to flower. The green sage and chives are in flower. The lemon balm will need harvesting as it is very large. The echinacea that I sowed last year is doing well. I hope to see the flowers this year. The second bed of rocket is now ready, so I am no longer on rocket rations! It should be very fiery due to the lack of water - just how I like it!

I think I may have inherited an apple tree and a few very large blackcurrant bushes if my plot extends that far - I need to confirm this with the previous owner. When I visited at the weekend it looked more like a jungle than an allotment, so I am assuming that they probably are part of this plot, as they were very well kept last year.  I cut the grass around the tree and bushes. I cut the grass manually as I am not a fan of strimmers. I'm not very good with machines and I find strimmers are too noisy for my liking. Also the smell of petrol makes me nauseous. I think it's much nicer to listen to the birds singing than the angry sound of a strimmer. It's a good work out for the arms too - when I arrived on the plot I felt like Olive Oyl, but when I left I felt like Popeye!

I'm hoping to find more time to tend my plot. Now that we have a new government I wonder if I could persuade them to put more hours in a day and more days in a week! Wishful thinking!!!

13 May 2010

Clyne in Bloom

My favourite local park - Clyne Gardens, is in bloom at the moment. Here are a some pics. If only these photos were scratch 'n' sniff! Unfortunately I wasn't able to capture the wonderful aromas of the blossom on camera!

Not sure the correct name for these but they make excellent umbrellas (except for the spikes!)


22 Apr 2010

Borage for The Bees

What fabulous weather we have had over the last couple of weeks! I have been making the most of it, where time permits by sowing plenty of seeds. I think I will sow some borage seeds over the weekend. The soil should be warm enough now for the seeds to germinate. April to May is the best time to sow borage seeds. I prefer to wait for a prolonged period of sunny weather to give the seeds the best chance to germinate. So now is the ideal time. It's important to keep the soil moist though, so if sowing during a dry spell, they will need to be watered until they become established. Borage is best grown in full sun or partial shade.

Borage is great for attracting bees. I think it is important to provide for the bees as their numbers are declining rapidly. This could be due to many factors including pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture, GM crops, mites, disease and terminal seeds (infertile seeds which farmers cannot replant).

Imagine a life without bees - we would have to pollinate everything by hand! Wild flowers would disapear rapidly. Other pollinators such as butterflies are also declining in numbers. When you think that these wonderful creatures do all the work of pollinating our flowers so that we can have food, I think that the least we can do is to try to provide for them. So if you have some space in your garden, allotment or land, why not sow some borage and/or wild flower seeds for the bees and other pollinating insects before it's too late? If growing wild flower seeds it is wise to check that they are native to your local area as some seed packets contain non-native flowers that can compete with local flowers which can affect wildlife and the environment.

If you prefer to grow flowers to eat rather than wild flowers, there are many edible flowers to choose from. I have a book called 'The Edible Flower Garden' by Kathy Brown (ISBN 1 - 85967-879-3) which lists the many different types of edible flowers, how to grow them and it also has many recipes. It's a great book with plenty of photos. I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in edible flowers.

Borage is my favourite edible flower. It is also known as 'starflower'. It is a beautiful blue colour and it makes a wonderful addition to salads. They have a mild flavour similar to cucumber. As far as I know they are the only natural blue food. Last year I had many edible flowers such as calendula, rocket, thyme, oregano, nasturtiums. These all make wonderful additions to salads. This year I will be growing as many edible flowers as possible. I will be posting pictures of my colourful salads in the summer! The rocket that I sowed late last year has just started to flower. Rocket flowers have a mild peppery flavour. Some people dislike the leaves of the rocket when it has gone to flower, but I prefer it - they are slightly hotter than normal. Chives are also a wonderful flower to eat. The flower head can be sprinkled over salads. They are deep pink in colour and even taste like chives.

Going back to the subject of bees, I saw a bee that appeared to be dying the other day. Whilst some people may think that they should put a dying bee out of its misery and kill it, I think it is best to leave it. It is probably suffering from exhaustion and may recover if left alone. Alternatively you can place a flower near it so it can have some nectar or give it some sugared water or syrup, which will help it to recover. We need to do all we can to save our bees.


6 Apr 2010

Bloomin' Marvellous!

Hooray...there's blossom on the trees! Bloomin' marvellous! A sure sign of spring! Well, we have certainly had more than our fair share of rain around here lately. This has meant that I am somewhat behind with my allotment. The few dry days we have had, I have been too busy with other things. I am hoping for a spell of dry sunny weather so I can get on with things. Now that the evenings are lighter, I may be able to go more often.

I have no photos of my plot this week because I went to the beach and the park before I went to the allotment and took many photos - by the time I got to the allotment the batteries had died.

My batteries weren't the only thing to die - my last artichoke looks like it has finally had its day. My allotment neighbour Keith said it probably died of loneliness due to the absence of its owner! I'm hoping that it will make a miraculous recovery. I'll be busy sowing seeds the next chance I get to go to the allotment.

17 Mar 2010

Battling with Brambles

I have gained some extra space on my plot...yippee! So I have been contemplating what to do with it. There are two raised beds, which I can put to good use. The rest of the space was riddled with brambles and other weeds. Although I don't normally dig, I think it's necessary when initially clearing a space, particularly when there are brambles. Fortunately there weren't too many brambles...nothing like last year's battle! The roots were certainly deep though! I spent an entire afternoon clearing the space. I still have a little bit more to do, but most of the hard work has been done. 
I just have to decide what to do with the space now! As it is a little shady, I was thinking about creating a bean haven, as most beans are tolerant of some shade. Last year I discovered the wonderful broad bean. I have no idea how I managed to live for all these years without ever tasting a broad bean! Well, I grew some last year and I was amazed. If I'd known how good they were I certainly would have grown more. So I'll make up for it this year and grow plenty. I'll be growing other beans too...especially the dwarf French beans. 
I was hoping to have a go at growing soya beans this year too as there are a couple of varieties that can be grown in the UK, but unfortunately Thomas and Morgan are out of stock at the moment. I had some home grown soya beans in Canada...they were delicious and had a really nice texture.

When I was raking the weeds I'd cleared, I noticed a frog jumped out, very close to where I was raking. It was lucky I didn't impale him! He was very camouflaged. I ushered him to the bushes, where he would be safe. I thought he was well out of the way, but unfortunately, about 5 minutes later I heard it squeak. When I was digging, a piece of mud rolled down the slope and must have landed on top of him. I went to check that he wasn't too injured, but he panicked thinking I was a predator, and squeaked several times before treading on a bramble. Poor thing. I couldn't see any injuries...I think he was more shocked than anything. The perils of digging! I had never heard a frog squeak before...I thought they just croaked. Anyway, I shall have to keep an eye out from now on, particularly on the paths. He is exactly the same colour as the path, so it's lucky I didn't trod on him. Whilst camouflage will protect a frog from cats and other predators, it makes it difficult for humans to see them. Frogs will always be welcome on my plot. They are wonderful creatures and they do an excellent job of controlling the slug population.

I was in the park last week and I noticed a Blue Tit appeared in a bush behind me (not the one pictured). I held out a nut and to my amazement it perched on my finger and took the nut. I couldn't believe it! Word must have got around, because a Great Tit appeared not long after. It didn't land on me but it was brave enough to perch on the branch and take the nut from my hand. They are fascinating creatures to watch. Small birds like this are sadly becoming more rare due to the increase in the number of birds of prey and cats kept as pets. Lack of food and shelter is also a problem as more and more land is cleared for building purposes.

There are two crows that I feed in the park now and then. I didn't see them much through the winter, but I have seen them recently and they still recognise me. I think crows are amazing creatures. They are very intelligent and have great characters. They are fascinating to watch. I know there are some people who dislike crows, but I often wonder why. Maybe it is because they think that crows will eat all the seeds. The crows may eat seeds, but I doubt they would eat ALL of the seeds. Here is a traditional saying: 'One for the wind, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow'. I think some people make many enemies when growing veg, but I think if you grow more than you need, you should always have enough. People may think that they own land because they pay for it, but this is a human concept that animals and insects do not understand. As far as they are concerned the earth belongs to all beings. Whilst some may view some creatures as being enemies because they eat some veg or seeds, it is worth bearing in mind that many creatures benefit us too. For example, crows also eat insects...many of which are more of a pest to the farmer than a crow could ever be. I think it is best to realise that some veg will get eaten by other creatures, and to grow more than is needed. If too much is grown it can always be thinned out. I'm a great believer in companion planting for keeping insect pests at bay...this is such a vast subject though, I think it will need a blog post of its own! 
Whoops, I've written another essay! So much for it being just two paragraphs..I think I get a bit carried away sometimes!


9 Mar 2010

Talk about WWOOFING

Just a quick post this time, to let you know about a talk I will be giving on WWOOFING at the Environment Centre Swansea. It starts at 7pm on Wednesday 10th March. I will be talking about WWOOF, my WWOOFING experiences, where I went, what I learnt and how it has shaped the way I garden. I'll also be touching on the subjects of Permaculture and Masanoba Fukuoka, because I learnt about both during my WWOOFING days. I'll also be giving advice to anyone who is considering joining WWOOF and talking about the benefits of WWOOFING. Swansea Organic Gardening Group meet monthly for talks, seed swaps, idea sharing and outings to farms/smallholdings. For more information about the group and upcoming talks/events contact Jayne Vickrage on 01792 869098

So, if you are in the Swansea area and fancy learning a bit about WWOOFING then why not come along tomorrow night? Here's the address and link to directions:

Environment Centre
The Old Telephone Exchange
Pier Street
View Map


3 Mar 2010

Spring Clean

I managed to squeeze an hour in at the allotment over the weekend. I just went for a bit of a tidy up. The herb spiral is looking pretty good for this time of year. The curry plant is smelling as good as ever. Curry plants (Helichrysum italicum) are supposed to be good at deterring cats...no shortage of those at the allotments! I'm pretty sure it must work, because they have not bothered my thyme plants (most cats love thyme). The curry plant smells deliciously strongly of curry, yet it has little flavour.  It is not used as a spice in curry, as the name would suggest...it is called curry plant because of the strong curry smell.                                           

I finished off the last of the leeks (yum!), but I am rationing the rest of the rocket until the next lot is ready. I think I will start sowing more rocket under fleece next week.

I haven't had much time to visit the allotment the last couple of weeks because I've been busy preparing for the Natural Living Show which is this weekend (6th and 7th March). I will be having a stall there with my healing crystal pendants, sea glass pendants and hemp jewellery. So if you are anywhere near Swansea next weekend, why not visit me at LC2?

I should have much more allotment news after next week because I will have more time to spend there, and it looks as though spring is here. The days are becoming warmer and longer. I'm looking forward to spending some quality time on the plot.


14 Feb 2010

Springing into Action

Hooray! I finally went to my allotment today! I was dreading seeing what state it was in as it has been a while since I last went. The snow and weeks of sub-zero temperatures didn't do as much damage as I thought. What a relief! I was amazed to see that I still have some rocket left - thanks to the fleeces. I pulled up the remaining leeks leaving just two small ones to enjoy next week.

My main concern was the herb spiral. I thought the snow would have caused some damage to some of the herbs, but they are growing back nicely. The rosemary and lavender were totally unaffected by the bad weather. My other concern was my lonesome globe artichoke. I planted four, but three of them were eaten by something in the early days of growth.The last time I saw the surviving artichoke, it looked rather frost damaged...but it is looking good now. I wish I had planted many more globe artichokes as they really are delicious. Unfortunately they are not available to buy where I live. In fact, when I enquired at the veg stall at the market, the assistant didn't know what a globe artichoke was! I think I will plant some more this year.

I didn't take my camera to the allotment so I have no photos to show. I can't bear to have a blog post without photos...it just doesn't seem right. So I have used a couple of random pictures from the website www.public-domain-photos.com

It was so nice to be on the allotment again. The sun was shining and it was warm enough to abandon my jacket. The allotment site is surrounded by trees and houses, which provide protection from the wind, making it quite a sun trap.  There were lots of people there today too.

I have had my plot for a year now. When I first went to see the plot it was covered in snow...what a contrast to today! It really did feel like spring was coming. I hope we have seen the last of the snow for this year. The clocks will be going forward towards the end of next month, so not long to wait for longer evenings.

It is the Chinese New Year today. It is now the year of the tiger. I am a tiger in the Chinese horoscope. A wood tiger to be precise. Apparently the celebrations last for a few weeks. If you want to know more about the Chinese New Year there is a link to a Wikipedia article here. If you want to find out what animal you are in the Chinese zodiac, there is an article here which contains a list of dates and a list of traits for each animal.  I am going to celebrate by cooking myself a Chinese meal...I'll be including my allotment leeks!

1 Feb 2010

WWOOFING (but not barking!)

I have been interested in organic gardening for years, but it was 2004 before I finally had a chance to have a go at growing veg. I didn't have a garden or an allotment and I wanted to go travelling anyway, so I joined WWOOF. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, or World Wide Organisation for Organic Farmers. It is an amazing organisation that connects volunteers with people who need help on their land. The volunteer works in exchange for food and accommodation. The amount of hours worked and the type of work is agreed before the volunteer arrives. When I first joined WWOOF in Canada I paid just 15 dollars for a booklet with over 400 contacts. I could browse the contacts to find a farm that suited my needs in an area I wanted to visit.

In Canada I was a WWOOFER at three different places on Vancouver Island; I stayed with a Herbalist, helped at a market garden and stayed at Sungoma - a community for musicians and artists. When I returned to the UK I worked on a farm in Wales. After this I stayed with a family in Ireland. I then went to Spain for a year. I stayed at a community near Coin for a few weeks. I then went to volunteer with a couple nearby. I spent most of that year helping Gemma and Mike in Casabermeja. I spent the summer in France where I helped with a market garden, stayed with a couple who lived near some waterfalls, stayed with a family, at a herb farm and with another community. I returned to Spain and stayed at a community called Valle de Sensaciones. I also helped with the olive harvest near Orgiva. I also stayed with Gemma's friend John for a while. Most of these exchanges were organised through WWOOF, but a couple came through word of mouth or through VON. VON is an organisation that promotes cruelty free organic farming and they have a small list of farms/small holdings around the world that take volunteers.

In total I have stayed at 15 different places. Most were good, others were brilliant. Only a few places were not so good but I learnt a great deal from all of them. It is not just an exchange of food and accommodation - I had the chance to visit places I never would have gone to. I met some really interesting people and I learnt a lot about the many different ways of organic gardening, sustainable living and herb growing. I also had access to a lot of interesting books from which I also learnt a great deal. I had lots of free time for exploring new areas and for doing creative things. It is also very satisfying to help others. I would definitely recommend WWOOFing to anyone who wants to learn more about organic gardening or sustainable living. I also recommend it for anyone who wants a break, but wants to do something different. It is a good way to travel on a low budget and to see some very remote parts of the world. WWOOF operates in many countries all over the world and their website is here.

For anyone who is considering WWOOFing:

It's important to contact the host beforehand to arrange a convenient time to go. You should also agree on the the hours of work, the type of work and accommodation/dietary requirements. It is important that you don't get exploited, so make sure that the amount of hours and the type of work is good for you before you go.

There's not much allotment news at the moment. I was hoping to go this weekend to have a bit of a tidy up, but there was snow on the ground, so I decided against it. I'm looking forward to warmer days when I can spend more time on my plot!


Top: Kitchen at Valle de Sensaciones
Middle: Valley where I used to sleep in my hammock at Valle de Sensaciones
Bottom: Fire pit at Valle de Sensaciones

16 Jan 2010

Herb Spiral

 I love herbs and have them growing in several beds on my plot. The heavy clay soil on my plot makes it difficult to grow some herbs. For this reason I made a herb spiral. The purpose of a herb spiral is to create many different micro-climates for the herbs, to accommodate their differing needs. For example, herbs that prefer shade and moisture, such as chives are placed at the back towards the bottom of the spiral. Herbs that prefer full sun and plenty of drainage, such as lavender and rosemary are placed at the top, and in front (facing south). The herb spiral that I made in spring worked a treat. All the herbs did extremely well. If I had planted them directly into the heavy clay soil,  doubt I would have had as much success.

I made the spiral with rocks that I found on the allotment site. I mixed the soil with sand and gravel to improve drainage. Before planting the herbs I added some compost. After planting I placed more gravel around the plants. I never had to do anything else to the herbs other than pick them. Oh, and the lemon balm needed a bit of a trim. Other than that the herb spiral was completely self-sufficient. Herbs in the spiral (from top to bottom): Lavender, Rosemary, Lemon Thyme, Thyme, Oregano, Golden Oregano, Purple Sage, Lemon Balm, Curry Plant, Dill, Parsley and Chives. A herb spiral makes it easy to water and to pick. As well as being practical they are also aesthetically pleasing. Great to have near the kitchen if you are lucky enough to have a south facing garden.

A Herb Spiral is a Permaculture technique. Permaculture is a term created by Bill Mollinson which comes from the words 'permanent agriculture' and 'permanent culture' to describe a sustainable way of growing food and a sustainable way of life. There is so much to say on this topic, so I will discuss it in more detail in a future post.

My allotment was completely covered with a thick blanket of snow the other day. My herb spiral was also covered, with a few hardy herbs breaking through the snow. Up until then, all the herbs were doing really well. The rosemary, lavender and curry plant are really hanging on. I haven't had chance to get down there since then to assess what survived. They should all come back in spring though. I am just glad that they did so well for so long.

7 Jan 2010

To Dig or Not to Dig

I prefer to let nature do the work when it comes to gardening. Why fight nature when you can work with it? I don't spend the winter and spring breaking my back digging - I copy nature instead. In autumn the leaves fall from the trees leaving a protective blanket on the forest floor. This helps to protect from frost damage and puts nutrients back into the soil. Slowly, throughout the winter the leaves are broken down by organisms that live in the soil. Years of this makes good soil. So I copy nature's method by covering all unused beds with green manure that I have grown on my paths in between my raised beds, and any other green matter I can find on my plot. This will prevent nutrients being washed away by heavy rains. It also prevents the ground becoming too cold, which means that in the spring the soil will be ready to sow earlier than if I had dug the ground.

The main issue that I have with digging is the amount of worms and other creatures that are killed using this method. These creatures help to aerate the soil and help to break down matter, which makes healthy soil. I hate killing creatures anyway, but surely it is senseless when these creatures are doing the work for us? The creatures will be nice and warm all winter because of the mulch, and they will happily turn the green matter into lovely soil just in time for spring. Of course they won't break down all of the mulch as there is so much of it. But when spring arrives I shall just push the mulch that is left aside, add some compost and sow the seeds. I have raised beds on my allotment which means that the soil will not be compacted by people walking on them. The raised beds are also good for drainage - essential when you have heavy clay soil. Digging also kills slow worms, which are another good friend of the gardener. I found a few of these on my plot last year. The first time I saw one I thought it was a gold necklace until it moved! These beautiful creatures are brilliant at controlling the slug population.

There is a significant difference between the soil of a heavily tilled farm and a forest. The tilled soil is lacking nutrients because most of it is washed away in heavy rains. Therefore large amounts of fertilizers are needed. Years of heavy tilling destroys a large amount of beneficial organisms. The soil of a forest is rich in nutrients and thriving with life. It differs in texture too. It is usually soft and light, making it easy for the roots of plants to penetrate in the spring. I have never walked through a forest in late winter or early spring and witnessed nature turning its soil with a fork! As plants have been around a lot longer than humans, I think it is safe to say that nature knows best. So I shall just keep copying nature. This way my back is happy and the worms are happy. If the worms are happy the soil will be great. If the soil is great the plants will thrive.

Below: Tilled soil, lacking nutrients and life             Nature knows best: An un-dug forest thriving with life


2 Jan 2010

From Brambles to Blossoms

In February 2009 I took on a very overgrown allotment. It was full of brambles, bracken and other weeds. Clearing the brambles was the easy bit. Clearing the rubbish was the hard bit! I found all-sorts - including the remains of an old mattress! I battled with plastic and carpet which was buried a foot under. I lost count of how many trips I made to the skip. It was hard work, but it was worth it. Although I believe in the no-dig approach, the land had to be dug over a few times initially to eliminate the brambles and rid the plot of the buried rubbish. Now I do not dig as a general rule. The exceptions I make to this rule are for potatoes or to make holes for fruit bushes. I'll talk more about my reasons for not digging in a future post, so watch this space.

Left: Brambles

                Right: Getting there

Below: Summertime on the plot. The spot where I am standing marks the boundary of my plot

My friendly neighbours gave me a very warm welcome. They also gave me plants to start me off. One neighbour even made me a couple of raised beds! By March all my raised beds were ready to sow. By the beginning of April I was gratefully munching on spicy salad leaves and rocket. By the summer my plot was in full production. I made a herb spiral that included chives, dill, curry plant, lemon balm, purple sage, thyme, lemon thyme, oregano, golden oregano, rosemary and lavender. I'll talk more about the herb spiral in a future post. Other herbs I grew included echinacea, mint, apple mint, pineapple mint, orange mint, calendula, chamomile, basil and green sage. I grew a lot of rocket because I eat so much of it. I also grew potatoes, carrots, peas, broad beans, dwarf beans, leeks and borage. Kind neighbours gave me some strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant plants. I also inherited a row of comfrey plants which came in very useful.

Despite the endless rain in the summer months, nearly everything was a success. The only things that didn't work out were the spinach and the beetroot. I blame the slugs for the spinach, but I have no idea why the beetroot were so tiny. I hope for better luck next time!

It is January now, so most of my beds are resting for the winter. I have mulched them with green manure that I have grown on the plot. The herb spiral continues to provide me with all the herbs listed above except the chives. I also have quite a bit of rocket and some leeks. I have one globe artichoke plant that is hanging on for dear life (it's a bit frost bitten!). I am currently making plans for this year. I can't wait to start sowing again.