Friday, July 30

Helping one parent families.

Unlike the social honey bees and bumble bees that live in communities most bees live solitary lives. There are more than 200 species of solitary bees found in Britain. Some solitary bees nest in holes in the ground and others in hollow stems or holes in wood.

Once the female solitary bee has emerged from her pupa and mated with a male she is on her own. Just to give her a little help up the property ladder we decided to recycle an ash tree log into ideal temproary accommodation for single parent families.
In return we expect the bees to work in lieu of rent by pollinating everything that needs pollinating in our garden and on our plot.

For the full story of how we - well Martyn - made the nesting blocks click here

More about how we are encoraging biodiversity on our plot and in our garden here

Thursday, July 29

I don't need them longer than this!

I was watching a TV gardening programme a few days ago and they mentioned that to obtain sweet peas with long stems they grew them as cordons and removed all the tendrils. It seemed a lot of trouble to go to as we always seem to have sweet peas with long stems without fussing them about. We choose varieties that have long stems . Granted the stems do become shorter as the plants get older. If we were growing them for showing it may be a different matter but all I want from sweet peas is a sweetly scented bunch for a vase!

Germination of the sweet pea seeds wasn't as good as usual this year so the colour range is limited - lots of pale pink but on the plus side the flowers aren't full of pollen beetles ... YET!

Monday, July 26

Is the end nigh?

No not a posting predicting the end of the world - I'm just wondering for how much longer we can have almost all of our 5-a-day from a bowl of fruit salad made with fruit picked from the plot?

Being mostly berries construction of the mountain is a bit tricky as the berries tend to roll down the slopes. Maybe Martyn - being a civil engineer - should take over construction. By the way his portion is the one on the left.

Although a couple of our plum trees and our gages seem devoid of fruit the Victoria has plums ripening and we have plenty of apples and a few pears. Autumn fruiting yellow raspberries are just starting to come into fruit so we should be OK for a while longer but I am expecting the major berry glut to be over soon.


The garden and plot are also very colourful at the moment. The perennials bought this year are doing well but as they are small and will need a year to really get going I have added some annuals to the flower borders in the garden to help things along.

I've added this week's diary entry to my website so if you are interested click here.

Saturday, July 24

The problem with manure

If you're new to allotments you may not have heard about the problem many of us have experienced over the last couple of years or so after using manure that was contaminated with a very persistent herbicide.

It's really important that you are aware of this if you are planning to manure your land as the problem hasn't gone away and won't for a while yet. There are still people being affected this year - . If you have no idea what I am talking about then please make sure you read the information on my website. There are several pages linked form here.

But if you don't want to bother reading everything at least visit this page and look through the photos of affected crops. Also make sure any gardening friends  and anyone supplying manure are aware too.

Big butterfly count and other little creatures

This week Butterfly Conservation are running a butterfly count. It's similar to the RSPB bird count - you have to count the largest number of a single species seen in one place at a given time. If you thought counting a flock of sparrows was difficult then try counting and identifying  butterflies as they flit about! If you don't know a peacock from a comma there is a downloadable chart to help. If you fancy having a go the website with all the details is here

The buddleias are on flower both in our garden and on the plot and are definitely a bee magnet - this afternoon the butterflies seemed to prefer the lavender!

I was really happy to see plenty of honey bees, as well as the usual bumble bees, browsing - the one below is a bit out of focus but the bees just won't co-operate and keep still! Taking photos does let you observe things more closely as I have never seen a honey bees tongue as clearly before - can you spot it?

There were also lots of newly 'hatched' ladybirds - when they are new they are a paler orange rather than the bright red. I say hatched but I should really say emerged as they emerge from pupas like the one in the photo below that I spotted cemented to a poppy leaf.

I said earlier that taking photos was a good way of observing things closely. I often spot something in a photo that I didn't see when taking it. Can you spot another ladybird pupa attached to the back of this rudbeckia? It's just peeking out from behind a petal on the right of the photo.

If you didn't know what a ladybird pupa looked like before - you do now so please don't squish them or their larva. Ladybird larva are friends and eat even more aphids than grown ladybirds. They don't look anything like the adults so if you don't know what they look like then - true Delia fashion - here's one I took earlier.

If you're interested a while ago I made a short video of the ladybird's life cycle for my website which is on this page.

I've also a short video of a butterfly life cycle here. There are photos of the butterflies we get on our plot on this page too.

Thursday, July 22

So what do YOU do with all YOUR photos?

Didn’t the invention of digital cameras change the way we take photographs? Automatic settings on the camera means that decent photos can be taken without a steep learning curve although one day I would love to unravel the mysteries of ‘f’ settings and all the other mind blowing things mentioned in the user instructions.

When I last checked, the pictures folder on my hard disk held 21,114 files. Hardly surprising as I always take my camera with me to the plot – well I take it virtually anywhere else that I go too. I often return home to find that I have hundreds - (literally) - of photographs to download. Some are deleted immediately, some I am really pleased with and others can be improved by using photo-editing software and a few clicks of the mouse.

So what to do with all these photos? – Well one option is to use the photo to do something creative like making greetings cards or manipulating the images to create arty effects like this. Actually I really enjoy doing both of these things.
See more of my arty attempts here.

You can also have a photo turned into a unique canvas to either offer as a gift or keep for yourself! I decided I’d have one of my photographs made into a canvas to pop on my bedroom wall.

Choosing a photograph from the 21,114 on my computer was in fact the most difficult part of the process. I managed to whittle the number down to the latest close-up flower photographs and then drew up a shortlist:

Pear blossom – just a bit dark and I didn’t want to mess around editing it. I wanted to use as good a qulaity image as I could as I thought this would give me the best quality canvas print.

Tulip – the background was a bit fussy and the colours not really right for my bedroom.

Cornflower – a close contender but I didn’t really want blue. Maybe if I decide on one for my other bedroom which is bluer!

Poppy – again the colour wasn’t right for the bedroom decor.

The photograph that I settled on was this one of a quince flower.

The photo was sent off last Thursday evening to Canvas Dezign. My work done I could sit back and eagerly anticipate the arrival of my canvas.

Yesterday I had an email from the company saying my canvas would be delivered bewteen 10:32 and 11:32 that day and impressively a delivery van turned up with my canvas at 10:40.

Here's a short video so you can share the grand unwrapping with me

The canvas was well packaged and I was very pleased with the efficient service and the quality of the materials used by the company Canvas Dezign. If you want to know more about them their website is here.  

All that remains now is to hang the canvas on our bedroom wall.
So what do YOU do with all YOUR photos?

Tuesday, July 20

Be careful what you wish for.

Well we wished for rain didn't we and we got it. The garden and plot had a severe battering - for weather details click here

Despite the weather we managed to get quite a lot done - mainly harvesting, digging, clearing and hoeing in order to make sure the flattened soil didn't turn to concrete once it dried out.

One major picking session was the peas. These peas were from our first sowing which germinated well - unlike the later sowings. They have taken quite a while to swell up - presumably because of the dry weather. We did have a few pea moth maggots but not too many. It sometimes seems that the whole plot needs to be undercover to protect from pests.

We keep thinking that we have cropped all the fruit but the berries seem to keep on coming.

Yesterday we also decided to strip the fruit from the cherry tree before the birds did it for us. It's done very well as it was only planted a couple of years ago - I think we got about five cherries last year.

Now blackberries are ripening and being added to the picking schedule. If you look closely you can spot the first of our yellow raspberries too.

We also harvested our first purple cauliflower. The small basket of potatoes were really growing from 'weeds' growing on one of the beds being cleared so were a bonus.

For the full diary entry for last week click here

To view last week's photo album click here

Tuesday, July 13

It's not all fruit!

I know I've posted on broad beans but fruit has seemed to dominate my blog posts so this time I'm ignoring fruit and concentrating on our vegetables.

We did pick some mangetouts but it seems that they were eaten before posing for the camera - we decided to have them raw in a salad - good decision!

We sowed some Early Nantes carrots in containers on 21 March which we have been picking for a few weeks. They are feeling a bit ignored as we kept eating them to without taking a photo - some raw and some cooked. This time I promised they would be stars of the blog.
They started out life in our cold greenhouse, sown in a trough which was moved outside when space became tight. They're not very big in size but big on flavour.

This week has also been the big garlic harvest. The first to be pulled were from cloves planted in a trough at the beginning of October, kept in the cold plot greenhouse and moved out in spring.

The bulbs were very small so I was a bit disappointed but after some technical advice on plaiting from a fellow plot holder, I made my first attempt at creating a string of garlic. It's not perfect but not bad for a first attempt - the photo is taken from its best side!

Attention turned to the second lot of bulbs. These had been started life in small pots in the cold greenhouse at home and grown on in there over winter. They were planted out into the ground on 21 March - same day as the carrots - we were busy that day!

The leaves hadn't died back completely but I decided to dig up one bulb to see if they were any better. To my dismay it was rotten so I figured that all the rest would be rotten too and decided to dig up the lot.

Dismay turned to delight as I dug up large plump bulb after large plump bulb - some cloves had even produced two bulbs! 
These are now drying out so I can have another attempt at plaiting. Looking at the two photos above you can't really appreciate the difference in size so wait a minute and I'll go and take another photo ... ...

Now can you see the difference? Both crops are a mixture of Solent Wight and Solent Purple. I'm guessing that I didn't water the bulbs in the container enough but I was worried about giving them too much water and rotting them!

If you want to read my full diary entry for last week it is here

An album of more photos taken last week is here.

Saturday, July 10

Birds and bees

It's good to take time-out to watch the birds and the bees.

I'm sure that this young blackbird was quite capable of picking mealworms out of the dish itself but it preferred to hassle its mum.

The tiny bee below was content to browse the head of an achillea.
Anyone , (maybe Mal), any idea what type of bee it is - the individual achillea floret should give some idea of size?

A swarm of honeybees have taken up temporary residence on the corner of fellow plot holders Charlie and Gill's shed.

For more information, video and photographs of bees click here

Thursday, July 8

Still fruity on the plot!


Another week for gathering soft fruit. Although our strawberry production line has slowed we are still managing to pick to odd punnet and lots of other soft fruit is now ripening. I picked the boxful on the left on Tuesday when it provided us with a really delicious fresh fruit salad - can't get fresher than that.

Alpine strawberries are producing fruit faster than we can manage to pick it. As the plants wear out after a couple of years or so we have sown new seeds and have small plants groing ready to plant out later for fruit next year.

Our second earliest blueberry bush has fruit which is beginning to ripen. The bush that should bear the earliest fruit has just ONE berry! I guess it didn't like the frost when it was flowering. The problem with blueberries is that the berries ripen over a long period and don't last on the bush so to start with you end up picking about half a dozen berries at a time.

Our early raspberries are newly planted this year so won't start fruiting well until next year - we have managed about four raspberries though!The one on the right is Glencoe which has the purple fruit - the raspberries are quite small but that could be the lack of rain or the fact that it too was only planted last year.

We've lots of gooseberry bushes - most are unknown varieties from cuttings taken by us and our plot neighbour. The cuttings rooted so easily that we have ended up with a gooseberry forest. They are all sweet dessert varieties - some red and some green. Deadly to pick but delicious to eat. We do have a couple of bought varieties - one is Pax which lives up to its name and is thornless.

We bought a jostaberry a year or so ago and it grew leggy and so it was pruned back and I decided to try taking cuttings from the prunings. They too rooted easily and so now we have six plants and our plot neighbour has one. This is the first year it has fruited and we like it - not sure how to describe the taste. The plant is a cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry and it does have hints of both but doesn't really taste like either.

We inherited these tayberry canes when we took over the allotment although they were a bit wild and didn't produce much fruit - they are now really prolific. We have had problems deciding whether they are tayberries or loganberries but have settled on tayberry - unless of course you know better.

Tuesday, July 6

Full of beans!

Well now I'm not destringing many more redcurrants you would think my fingernails would recover but now we are podding broad beans - another fingernail blackening activity.

The strawberry production has now slowed down to a trickle so I guess most of my plants are mid season varieties, although there should be a few everbearing ones in there somewhere.
The varieties started off in separate rows but the problem is that they shared a bed and often it was difficult to tell which plant the runners came from, so now I have no idea which variety is which.

I  know my early ones - Mae - died off and never really produced much, so that leaves me with Marshmello, which I think most of the plants are, some Florence and some Flamenco. Flamenco should be everbearing. Maybe I'll be able to pick them out later.

The moral of the story is "Don't put all your strawberries in one bed! "

Anyway I think next year we need a sort out - some new plants split into separate beds with some everbearers !
So it's from red harvest to green this week - lots of broad beans which are being squirreled away in the freezer for winter!

I can't believe it's July, but it is, so my July diary has been started here

Only one June video has been edited so far, as we have been too busy picking and eating fruit. We - well Martyn - took so much video last month that we have had to split it into flowers, fruit and vegetables. Here's the flowers bit to keep you going!

Monday, July 5

Home Grown Horbury plans new Green Gym

Community group Home Grown Horbury are inviting all those interested in getting fitter and growing their own fruit and vegetables to sign up for the group’s first “Green Gym”.
The group is planning to use the overgrown church garden at St John’s church, Horbury Bridge as the first of many plots which will be revived by volunteers meeting up weekly to turn plots into community “allotments” that can be used by group members to grow their own fruit and vegetables.

Anyone wanting more information about the scheme can come along to St John’s Church on St John’s Street, Horbury Bridge at 7pm on Monday 12th July where they can sign up for the free scheme and where the group will also be holding an edible plant “swap shop” for anyone who has potted up too many fruit and vegetable plants and wants to swap plants with other growers.
Group member Andy Austerfield said “The Green Gym’s will be a great way for anyone who enjoys gardening to meet like-minded people, get a bit of exercise and learn new growing skills whilst helping to make more pieces of land available for growing locally.”

For more information contact Andy Austerfield on 07971 098510 or email

Saturday, July 3

More fruit picking

Yesterday was another day of fruit picking. The strawberries just keep on coming and the redcurrant bushes still look as though we haven't picked any fruit. At least the branches that were weighed down with berries have begun to lift back up.

We have taken the netting off the redcurrants and will share the rest of the bounty with the blackbirds. Has anyone noticed how dirty it gets under fingernails when destringing redcurrants? Whilst I've been sitting in the garden preparing the currants for freezing and acquiring disgusting nails - I'm sure the blackbirds are spying on me as any squashed berries placed on the bird table are quickly gobbled up. The birds keep one eye on what I am up to - just in case it is a trap - and also love any spoiled strawberries.

The alpine strawberries are really prolific too producing masses of fruit. As I was picking yesterday there was a sudden movement as something brushed past my knee and there sitting on top of the container of fruit was the most beautiful, large frog. It hopped back under the plants before I could reach for my camera - it's hopefully gorging itself on anything that may have decided to gorge itself on our strawberries.

The Glencoe raspberries are just ripening and taste of ... well raspberries ... We only had about a couple each so the quality of flavour was difficult to assess but if all the young fruits continue to ripen we should have a good crop.

I hate to end on a negative note but it looks as though all the kiwi flowers have dropped without producing a single fruit - oh well you have to have challenges in life and it looks like obtaining a kiwi fruit is one of ours!

Thursday, July 1

Flowers, fruit & unidentified guests.

It's July - how did it get here so quickly? I was going to hold this post until we edited the video we had taken on the plot in June but we have been so busy picking and preparing fruit that the video is still waiting. Another six punnets each of strawberries and redcurrants, a punnet of alpine strawberries and a few blackcurrants. I spent all yesterday afternoon picking redcurrants off their stems. Whilst I was doing this I had a new visitor to my garden - well it was new to me.

It looked almost golden in the sunshine and was between one and two centimetres long. Anyone know what it is and whether it is a friend or foe? Thanks to Mal from Mal's Allotments for identifying the beetle as Lagria Hirta and from the information about it, it isn't a problem.

It was my week for insects as a large moth tried to hitch a ride in our car. Again I have no idea what it is so if any expert entomologists are out their that can identify either or both of them please post a comment. 

The perennials in the garden are now beginning to pay for their keep.

You may just be able to spot where I have cut back a fading dicentra - just behind the alchemilla - I really need something in the space that it has left. It either needs to be an annual of a perennial that won't suffer hiding under the dicentra leaves earlier in the year. Something fairly low growing - any ideas?

In the garden greenhouse the grapevine is beginning it's fight for greenhouse domination and so is being kept in check - plenty of grapes for later.

My June diary - apart from the video is now complete so if you want to read the entry for last week click here. Last week's weather is here. Martyn is experimenting with a live weather link which is causing much hair tearing from him and ears closing from me - if you want to see it so far it is here. It is only live when his computer is connected to the Internet but if you have a look I'm sure he would appreciate some feedback on his blog here