Thursday, 18 August 2016

Tomato, tomato

It's been the best year yet for tomatoes. Every February I plant a variety of seeds in pots of compost on the windowsill. Some years the plants really don't do well. I don't have a greenhouse and I find that they are happier in the garden than down at the allotment, so I put them in one of my 4' x 8' raised beds. If it's a cool damp year then I find they don't grow and ripen fast enough and I mostly end up with lots of green tomatoes.

This year I experimented with putting the plants closer together. I squeezed in 4 plants along the short edge and 7 plants along the long edge. 21 plants in total as there are a couple of patches of sorrel in there as well and one plant was lost.

The plants did well and by the time the fruits were swelling there was a huge amount of foliage. Because of the amount of plants in the small space there wasn't much light getting in to the centre of the bed, so I cut off most of the foliage. As I say, a bit of an experiment. I usually remove many of the leaves, but later in the season. This was back in June and I wasn't sure if it would affect the plants.

In fact they continued to do really well, and a couple of weeks ago I removed a lot more of the new leaves. I've pretty much just left one or two at the top. I've also pinched out the tops of all of the plants except the Sungolds ones, which are small cherry tomatoes and ripen quickly.

The other varieties I've grown are Ferline, Orkado, Nimbus and Golden Sunrise. Ferline are a good size and have some blight resistance. Orkado were new to me last year but I'll definitely be growing them every year now. They were voted best tomato by Which? Gardening and have a good early healthy crop. Nimbus were a free trial pack of seeds and have done okay, although one or two of the fruits are small and not good quality. Golden Sunrise ripen quite early and have a nice thin skin. The flavour is light and sweet and they look lovely in salads. And Sungold never let me down. Loads of cherry tomatoes from early in the season until autumn. They just go on and on and on.

This year I finally have a pretty good crop out there. It's something I always hope for but tomatoes are tricky in our climate and I'm often disappointed. If you're growing tomatoes this year, how are they doing? And do you have a variety you swear by?

Saturday, 13 August 2016


An afternoon of wandering round the beautiful English countryside. Summer is blissful isn't it. I'm quite envious of the people who live in lovely Cotswold villages. All that beautiful old stone and roses round the door.

I saw a lovely evergreen that had been cut into a nice dome.

I have an evergreen by my front gate that is fairly unruly and is taking off at the top. I'm wondering if I can persuade it to turn into something similar. I guess I start by cutting off all the lower branches. Not sure if I'm brave enough, there's a high chance it will look utterly ridiculous instead of elegant and classy. Although of course that might be more apt. Any suggestions or advice? I'm very tempted to start meddling with it. More sawing. It occurs to me that it might be a slippery slope. Nothing will be safe.

Wishing all a good summer Sunday. CJ xx

Thursday, 11 August 2016

A little light carpentry

I took up carpentry today. We have an awkward little corner where we put shoes, and they tend to end up in a horrible pile. It's needed a shoe rack there for ages and I'd come to the realisation that the only way I'd get one to fit would be to make it myself.

I dragged the youngest two along to the building shop. The littlest nearly toppled a 10' metal ladder-on-wheels thing over on the shop owner, who was remarkably sanguine. I gave a stiff lecture and hung on to his collar as much as I could for the rest of the visit. An ordinary plank of wood came in at £18.50, so I ended up with two offcuts for £3.50. Good enough.

They were much harder to saw through than I imagined but once I get an idea I tend to power through come hell or high water.

I now have a very rudimentary shoe rack, but I can't tell you how much pleasure it's giving me to see the shoes neatly arranged. Of course it will slightly depend on people actually putting the shoes neatly on the rack.

I really enjoyed taking a couple of planks of wood and a few screws and making something useful. Immensely satisfying. Sadly I am now in an immense amount of pain though. My arm was fine at the time, but after a while it started hurting and now I'm just about ready to cry. If I only had power tools there would be no stopping me.

We took a trip to a local village the other evening to see the circus. It was utterly enchanting, a couple of hours of magic.

It's just a small circus, quite intimate, but all the lovelier for that. The boys really enjoyed it, even the biggest boy who is trying very hard not to be impressed by anything at the moment. (On seeing my shoe rack: "Why is everyone going 'Ooooh'?" I tried not to be crushed.)

On the summer reading front I'm working my way through some of the books you lovely people suggested. Isn't the phrase "summer reading" delightful? It conjures up images of an afternoon spent lying in a hammock or on a blanket under a tree or by the river. I find the reality is a bit different. In fact sometimes I wonder when I ever manage to read at all. I snatch odd moments while I'm watching swimming or football or supervising at the park.

I'm off to breathe through the pain a bit now. Wishing you some undisturbed summer reading time. CJ xx

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The year the weeds won

Down at the slightly neglected allotment there is still prettiness to be found. In amongst the weeds. I haven't given it enough love this year and of course it shows. It's not the end of the world though. I'm doing a very good job of not getting stressed about it.

The perennial weeds like horsetail and bindweed are having a field day, but the time will come when I'll have a good dig around and get some of the roots out. Not all of them, it will be an ongoing battle, but I'll give it my best shot.

Despite the chaos there are still things to be picked. Blackcurrants, Japanese wineberries, runner beans, radishes, artichokes, cucumbers, courgettes, sweet peas, achochas, beetroots. The three plums mysteriously disappeared. The littlest boy and I checked the local cherry plum trees yesterday and they seem to have very few fruit as well. Maybe it's not a plum year in this part of the world.

In the garden the tomatoes and salad leaves are doing nicely. And it's definitely a pear year. Last year there were none; this year masses. It's also a frog year. Last year not so much. Some things seem to need a year off.

How is the summer treating you so far? Enough time for all of the things you want to do? I took the boys on a picnic today. The middle boy is still on a quest to catch a fish. It's not as easy as you might imagine. Where are they all? Tomorrow I'm staying close to home and catching up on a mountain of chores. I do like a day at home, but no doubt it will all get a bit feral after a few hours. Maybe then the park.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Back from the wilderness

River Usk
Llangorse Lake

I'm back from the wilderness. Camping was a triumph, and I'd definitely do it again. We stayed in the Brecon Beacons (a range of mountains in South Wales), somewhere I hadn't visited properly in years. I'd forgotten how beautiful it is there.

We camped by the River Usk, a particularly pretty river that's designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its importance to wildlife. We saw dippers and kingfishers right outside our tent.

The littlest boy made a new best friend at the campsite and spent hours playing with him. The middle boy made the camp fires with his flint and steel fire starter. The biggest boy photographed the wildlife and wandered along the river banks birdwatching.

It rained a bit from time to time. We climbed partway up Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales, but the weather turned nasty - horizontal driving rain - and we were soaked before we'd even reached halfway. The littlest boy wanted to turn back, although the others were desperate to get to the top. We came down, passing plenty of people still going up. I was intrigued by what they were wearing. Some were favouring the shorts approach - freezing legs, but at least they dry off quickly.

We rowed around Llangorse Lake for a bit on our last day. It's a bit bigger than the local boating lake. Everyone had a turn at rowing, and when we weren't rowing we all gave helpful tips to the person who was rowing.

It was short but sweet, just two nights away, and I think everyone would like to go again. I feel as if I have discovered something with camping. It's a whole community of people out there, sleeping in tents and eating breakfast in the great outdoors and playing outside until dark. The littlest boy was particularly sad to leave and I know he's already thinking about next time.

It rained as we packed up the tents, so my job for today is spreading them out, drying them off, sweeping bits of grass out of the big one that we borrowed and tackling the laundry mountain. I'll be thinking about next time a bit as well.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Things with wings

six-spot burnet moth

meadow brown

chalkhill blue
chalkhill blue
chalkhill blue

meadow brown

? meadow brown ? 
six-spot burnet moth

large white? edited: possibly a small white, thanks CT

Up on the Cotswold escarpment the wild flowers are still beautiful. I spent the afternoon having a wander with the boys and snapping butterflies. I'm not completely sure about the identifications. I think the brown one is an older tattier meadow brown.

We saw a couple of painted ladies and some marbled whites as well but I didn't manage to get pictures of them. The littlest boy got stung by a bee and yelled so loudly you could hear him in three counties. To my horror he declared that he doesn't like bees any more. We'll see about that, it's pretty much compulsory in this house.

The camping plan is gathering pace. The middle boy put up a tent in the garden today and the littlest boy found a packet of 36 jaffa cakes which will do nicely as Camping Snacks. I shall make sure there are many delicious things packed. I have a feeling good food is a major feature of a good camp.

Wishing all a good Sunday. CJ xx