Sunday, February 26

Our expected visitor didn't arrive

Storm Dora, (or was ir Doris?) spared us a visit and was content to just waft her skirts at us` as she passed by further south. Nevertheless, the week was still generally windy but it didn't stop us from carrying out quite a lot of work on the plot and in the garden.

The garden was mainly light duties

The sarcococca bought on our visit to Hodsock was planted in a pot so that it could live on the patio where we can benefit from the full effect of its perfume. The pot chosen is deliberately overlarge to allow growing room. Until the sarococca grows some flowering plants, maybe pansies or viola, will fill the empty space.
Martyn set out the potatoes as they had decided to begin chitting and would continue to do so whether we wanted them to or not. As a precautionary measure they have been covered with fleece.
Whilst he concentrated on the potatoes, I cut back most of the ferns in anticipation of the emergence or the new, coiled shoots.
On the plot the level of activity was turned up a notch or two.

Martyn's main task was to move the weed control fabric from last year's brassica bed to the one where the brassicas will grow this year.
My main task was to complete the tidying of a bed which was in part occupied by extremely mature rhubarb roots. It was another patch of land that had needed to be cleared for some time.
The end where the rhubarb roots were planted was hard going and reinforcements were drafted in. The huge roots were split - you can see some of the retained pieces along the edge of the bed waiting to be tidied up and planted when we find a spot for them.

Our early rhubarb planted in other beds is well in the way to producing some pickable stems.
Less physical work was to clip back the lavender to keep it bushy. The smaller plants in rows were planted last year and will hopefully replace the older plants either later this year or next.
Although the strawberry beds are covered with weed control fabric they still needed a little TLC. Weed seedlings do manage to gain a foothold in the mulch that is spread over the fabric and some perennial weeds will nudge their way through weak points. If these are dealt with whilst still quite small they are easily removed, This was my final task of the week along with rubbing the dead leaves away to allow new growth unfettered growth.
The second strawberry bed will receive attention on our next visit. 

Martyn shot a short video of my hands in action. Forgive the quality of the commentary  my throat was a bit dry.

I posted a photo of the state of my knees a while ago and was told that I should use a kneeler. As you can see from the video I do use one - two in fact! This doesn't help at this time of the year.
Martyn posted a longer video showing more of the weekly work here if you are interested.

Friday, February 24

New for 2017 - part 7 mushy peas

We like mushy peas, especially served with fish and chips so when Martyn noticed a variety of peas that claimed to be, the premier 'marrowfat' variety ideal for making ever-popular mushy peas, he couldn't resist adding a packet of the appropriately named Maro, to our seed list.
Although the peas can be eaten when young they will taste less sweet so we had better not mix them up. As well as for making mushy peas the dried peas can be added to stews and casseroles, I'm assuming that the dried peas will keep in a jar - anyone any advice ?

Wednesday, February 22

Monday, February 20

Almost same old, same old!

I don't want to bore you by harping on again about sprouts, parsnips and carrots but the fact remains that they are just about the only things that we are still harvesting although this week we also pulled some leeks.
We did pick something different though - some Pak Choi leaves. The plants hadn't grown very big from last year's sowing but there were signs of flower buds so I picked the best leaves.
Probably our first and last pickings as something has had a go at the leaves and most are a bit holey. Still we had a taster!

Whilst we were at the plot this weekend we didn't only harvest. The weather was quite mild for February so we managed to put in two full afternoons' work. 

Martyn has made a video showing some of the activity which he has posted on his blog today here if you would like a peek.

Today I am linking to Harvest Monday over at Dave's blog  Our Happy Acres

Sunday, February 19

There's tidying and there's TIDYING

Just recently when we have managed to get out into the garden or onto the plot it's been a case of doing some tidying.

Partly the tidying has been carried out on three flower beds.

In the garden:

Task - Tidy two flower beds

Time taken - one afternoon
Workforce - one person
Details of work:
  • Cut back dead top-growth from faded perennials
  • Tie in climbing roses
  • Remove a few weeds
  • Take care not to step on emerging bulbs

Top photo before and after photo underneath

On the plot:

Task - Tidy one flower bed

Time taken - six afternoons
Workforce - two people
Details of work:
  • Remove top growth of weeds
  • Remove as many weed roots as possible
  • Dig up plants and decide what to keep and replant
  • Barrow compost from the other end of the plot
  • Spread homemade compost on the bed
  • Cut back hard two sambucus nigra
  • Hard prune shrub roses
  • Tidy edges
  • Try not to get two muddy
I've put together some before and after photos in the video clip below to show the scale of the task.

There's plenty more tidying still to do!

Friday, February 17

Something new for 2017 - part 6 (Allotment Annual Flowers)

Regular readers will be aware that we like to grow annual flowers on our plot. Our reasons are threefold, for cut flowers for the house, to provide a nectar bar for insects and lastly, but by no means least, to add colour to the plot and give us something of beauty to enjoy.

Last summer we have two main beds.
The plants in one bed were raised in modules and planted out and the left over seeds were mixed up and later sown directly in another bed. We enjoyed both beds but were pleased at the success of the direct sown bed.

This encouraged us to try some direct late summer sowing of hardy annual seeds to try and produce some early flowers next year. Self sown annuals that successfully overwintered and flowered early added further encouragement. We sowed, cornflowers, a mixed packet of seeds, calendulas and some larkspur. Germination of the first three was excellent. The larkspur was old seed and didn't do as well. At present all are protected by enviromesh and, although it is early days, so far so good.
Some wallflowers, sweet Williams and sweet rocket will also sit out winter and hopefully provide early flowers.
As I browsed the seed catalogues my mind turned to which old favourites I would continue to grow, which varieties I would drop and which new varieties to try out.

I ended up with three new types of flower and one that didn't fare too well but which I thought was worth trying again.
I've grown the low growing ageratum in the past but I didn't realise that a taller variety existed and that it is supposed to be a long lasting cut flower.

I was attracted to the shape of the amberboa - these are related to cornflowers and are a type of sweet sultan. The are supposed to be aromatic, make good cut flowers and be loved by butterflies and bees - sounds perfect.

I liked the colour of the gaillardia which is also another that claims to be a good cut flower. A few red flowers seem to add zing to a flower patch.

Another plant that claims to produce good cut flowers is the didiscus or lace flower. It didn't do too well last year but the odd flower that were produced made me keen to give it another chance.

Our full list of flower seeds (so far) is here. Flower seed order.

Wednesday, February 15

I wonder whether that feeder is safe?

Saturday, February 11

Something new for 2017 - part 5 (peppers)

Our sweet pepper harvest is always unimpressive. We harvest a few fruits but they take a long time to ripen. 

This year we bought some mini peppers from our greengrocer.
We've always overlooked them on the past on account that we  presumed there would be more waste than anything else. On this particular day I was looking for some bits to put in an omelette and a large pepper would have been too big so I bought a pack. This lot cost just £1.
There's no denying that they are very cute.

As it turned out they have very few seeds and if anything are easier to prepare as when preparing their larger cousins I end up with seeds everywhere.

They are also very sweet and good eaten raw so some sneak into our sandwiches.

The revelation made me wonder whether mini peppers would prove more successful for us and so I searched the seed catalogues looking for something similar to those we had bought. As it was most catalogues had a version that matched. In the end I added a packet to an order that we had already prepared and ordered these.
We are still going to grow a couple of the larger varieties and have ordered.

Maybe 2017 will be a good year for peppers.

Wednesday, February 8

Early Flowers

Monday, February 6

Snap, dig, pull

We had a few afternoons working on the plot last week. 

We had a very productive time in more ways than one.

We harvested the usual suspects.
The parsnips continue to impress. Two large ones were locked in a tight embrace.

Just for a change we took a short harvesting video.

Today I am linking to Harvest Monday over at Dave's blog  Our Happy Acres

Saturday, February 4

Emerging from the shadows - photography

I'm afraid that I still haven't got to grips with manual settings on my camera and rarely stray from the automatic setting.

Even if I could get my head round which settings to choose there are times when I need to take a photo very quickly and, if I had to fiddle with settings, the moment would be lost. 

One example was when a robin was singing high in a tree . The late afternoon sun was shining and the bird was just a silhouette. No point even trying to take a photo with my lack of expertise? Digital photography means there is never anything to lose by just pointing the camera and pressing the shutter.

The resulting image was this ...
Rubbish isn't it? The camera, however has captured far more than it first appears and all is not lost.

We have a piece of software called Adobe Lightroom which often compensates for my lack of expertise in setting up the camera correctly. Using this I can apply settings after the image has been taken. 

Cheating I hear some of you muttering but my aim is to produce a pleasing image and why is it cheating to tweak settings after the photo was taken rather than before. If the initial photo is really rubbish then the software won't magically turn it into a perfect photo. The information has to be incorporated when taking the image in order for the software to bring it out.

I've chosen this extreme example to show what is possible. The photo above was actually what I saw with the naked eye. 

I'm not going into tutorial mode - the idea is just to give a flavour of how something half decent can be produced from what initially appears to be a completely failed photo.

I imported the original image into Lightroom.
Let's look closer at part of the panel on the right.
This area allows you to correct the exposure and alter various other light settings. All I needed to do to this photo was to decrease the amount of shadow. I reduced it to the maximum capacity as you can see from the slider above.

I ended up with this ...
The details of the robin were magically revealed. The camera had caught all this bit the shadowing masked it.

The image was taken with my Lumix FZ1000 at the full extent of the optical zoom. The actual photo size was 5472px x 3648px (or to make it simpler 772mm x 515mm or 30" x 20") I know incredible isn't it. 

The huge size of the image means that I can select and crop a much smaller part of the image so that the robin becomes more dominant.

Back to Lightroom and more tools.

I clicked on the aspect ration control tool to open the padlock as I wanted my photo to be a different shape to the original Then I clicked the crop tool.

I set the crop box around the part of the image that I wanted to keep.

Let's look closer.

If you look closely you can see that the highlighted selection has some guidelines displayed. I have this set up in thirds, like a noughts and crossed template. I'm not going into any detail about the rule of thirds here other than to say that the guides help with composition. The selection can be moved around until you are happy with the composition. I wanted the viewer to be drawn to the robin's eye and so this was placed at the point where a horizontal and vertical line cross.

Once satisfied I clicked the crop tool again to'cut' out the selected area. So here we see the before and after. Both are cropped for a direct comparison.

It's not as sharp as it could be but considering how it set off I don't think it is bad. It was good enough to use as the design for my 2016 Christmas cards.