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  • : The blog of Frank Beswick. It deals with my interests in religious, philosophical spiritual matters and horticulture/self-reliance
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September 19 2017 3 19 /09 /September /2017 12:29

The first point to make is that I am not going to over-work. A day or two ago the allotment  chairman approached me to say that the man who shared the now neglected left side of my plot, a lovely man and an expert gardener, but plagued by cancer, had given up his plot. I am deeply saddened by the departure of this wise and well-balanced man whose friendship has meant so much me, but time moves on. The chair asked whether I wanted to take over the full plot, as my doing so made sense. But on discussing with Maureen she made it clear that she did not want me doing too much, so I will decline. 

But what to do? I have decided that the soil on my new plot is badly neglected, so I am creating a container garden. I have bought in three raised beds, six by four feet,  fourteen inches deep, and begun putting them together. Knowing that I would be doing the job alone I decided to hold their frames together by nails, so that when I screw the sides together the job will be easier. But that raised another problem, my drill runs on mains power. We do have mains electricity at the allotment, but it is some distance away from my plot. So I have\ had to get a new drill. Fortune struck! I won fifteen pounds worth of gift cards for  the local d.i.y superstore, so the drill cost only forty five pounds. The salesman was honest enough to tell me that it was not powerful enough for masonry, but I want it for the garden, and that means wood. Thinking back, lacking such a drill has meant that I have been under-tooled as a gardener, for some purposes at least, though on the whole I am well-tooled. 

The next problem is going to involve timing. I would like to paint the beds, but this is now Autumn [Fall] and the weather is rainy. So I must await the right time, but as they already have preservative my table and benches take priority, when it is dry. But in North West England in Autumn, when will that be?

The new raised beds will not cover the whole front half of the new plot, so I am going to move some tyre planters and other raised beds from the old plot to the second one. This is part of an ongoing process of redesign which must take place in all gardens, for no garden stands still.  

But then I have the area round the lovely damson tree in the middle to sort out. This will mean clearing grass  and digging and replanting rhubarb crowns. This is a heavy job and I am going to have to seek some help from Andrew, but there is time yet. Clearing the area at the rear is the final job. But that will involve some heavy lifting and digging. Fortunately, my predecessors left two disused compost heaps. Their contents can be used to fill in the raised beds. But I am having to purchase  some compost to fill them. I will mix compost and pelleted manure, as I find it an ideal mx, the compost giving bulk and the pelleted chicken manure giving high strength nourishment. 

I find the pellets preferable, as redesign at the allotment has meant that the area where manure caan be left is limited and the rules require that it be shifted within forty eight hours, which is not always posssible in our Autumn weather.  


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September 7 2017 5 07 /09 /September /2017 11:21

The first signs of Autumn [Fall] are here and much has been harvested. I have two greenhouses, and now is the time to tend to them. One contains peppers, a vine and a sweet potato, which is flourishing. The  vine has been a disappointment, as the tiny grapes seem to have been eaten by pests, but this climate is not good for black grapes,so I am thinking of being rid of it. The peppers have been productive, but are nearing their end, so I will clear them of fruit and compost the plants. The sweet potato will stay as long as possible to allow growth in the tuber. My friends are pessimistic about it in this climate, but it is an experiment that is not complete, so there is still time. The second greenhouse contains my bumper crop of small, sweet  tomatoes.  

The first thing to do is pull out the pots in which I grow crops and change the soil. I will not waste it, but pour it into my new raised beds and add some pelleted chicken manure. Then I will clean them all out to prevent pests from hiding. Once the pots are out of the greenhouse I  will continue the tidying and cleaning work that I began yesterday. Some invasive weeds have crept in under the metal frame and are hiding behind the pots. They will  have to be uprooted. Then I am extending the fabric cover on the greenhouse floor. Currently it is a path down the middle and the pots rest on wood chip, but to prevent weeds an extension of the weed control fabric is in order to cover the floor.Rubbish that has accumulated is already bagged ready for to be taken to the tip. You slowly accumulate odds and sods of rubbish, nothing big, but as the allotment does not benefit from the  council rubbish/garbage collecting services, waste can accumulate.

The windows will have to be washed as they can build up grease and dirt. I also have a repair job to do on one panel of my second greenhouse, which came loose in strong winds earlier this year, for as I have said before, all places have their disadvantages and mine, thirty miles  from the Irish Sea across low-lying flat land, suffers from wind. As it is on the west of Britain the wind tends to be gusty, and gusts can at times be strong. I will also tighten up any screws and window fittings, awaiting the North West English winter 


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August 31 2017 5 31 /08 /August /2017 18:11

A recent report estimated that in the twelve thousand years since humanity first developed agriculture about a hundred and thirty three billion tons of carbon has been lost to the soil. Much of that is due to a number of factors: poor grazing practices that result in desertification; excessive ploughing which causes losses of carbon in land turned over by the plough, loss of peat lands, which are a great carbon bank, and soil erosion caused by loss of tree cover,particularly on slopes. This carbon is going into the atmosphere as CO2. Maybe it is dwarfed by the 450 billion tons emitted by industry, but the smaller amount adds to the greater to worsen the problem. 

Yes, it is for governments to sort out the problem, but ordinary citizens can do their bit, lessening the amount emitted and using up. We are all told to plant trees, but using wooden rather than plastic products will create a store of CO2 in the wood that we use, and long lasting trees will create a temporary bank of CO2 that lasts  for as long as the tree does. Supporting the creation of woods and peat bogs is also a help,for the latter constitute a vast carbon storage bank. 

But what we do in our gardens matters. We need to be dedicated composters. To do this we should ensure that every piece of vegetable waste we make is recycled through the compost bin, if it is not eaten. I have a garden compost system that takes up the weeds from the allotment and a bin for kitchen compost [uncooked] which is richer than mere garden compost. I am getting a wormery to use up cooked food, for worms make a rich compost. I have also created a leaf mould bin to store up leaves to be used as mulch. The principle by which I live is to recycle as much as possible and convert to compost rather than waste. 

Individuals alone will not solve the world's problems, but they can play their part.




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August 27 2017 1 27 /08 /August /2017 12:06

It has always been my desire to get my family involved in the allotments, and recently I have had more success. Andrew, my eldest son and a trained horticulturalist, worked away from Manchester for many years, but has returned and now settled. So now I receive assistance. This is useful, as to be bluntly truthful,  I am growing older and have had some back problems. Andrew's arrival has meant that we have been able to take on a new plot, our second. He also has taken the lion's share of the digging while my back problems slowly heal. Really useful! 

Andrew's wife is Angolan Portuguese, from a family who fled as refugees from Angola to Portugal , leaving behind what she tells me was a lovely farm that had been in their family from before anyone could remember. For her the allotment is a way of reliving the childhood farm life that she thought that she had lost;  and she cooks. Besides helping with the planting she likes to  make jam. So yesterday Andrew and I picked windfall apples and delivered them to her. We will  split the jam between us,fifty per cent for her and fifty per cent for me. Their two year old daughter stands on a chair near the cooker while her mother is jam making. She also likes to visit the allotment and see the wild life. Last time she came she saw a rather fat frog, that must have got so large by eating the slugs that cause so many problems. Some means of attracting children matters

But whatever you do, don't force children to take part. My one-time neighbour used to bring her young children and make them  work the garden with her. That strategy  worked until their teens and then they stopped coming. Teenage rebellion set in. I never pressed any of my children to participate. They did like climbing the apple  tree, even Helen,who has never taken to the rural/horticultural  life, at one time did her share of tree climbing. I tell her that she is a climber as able as her brothers are, but she does not enjoy climbing much. Of course, her young son, aged ten months,  who recently came to visit, has already found a role in the allotment: he eats the plums! So I already have a demand for my plums that is greater than I can satisfy. 

Growing to meet family needs is vital. My second son, Peter, married a vegetarian and they eat a mainly vegetarian diet. Peter does not grow much food, but he loves cooking. In fact he decided not to be a chef because he wants to keep on enjoying cooking. So he is the prime beneficiary of my prolific pumpkin patch, whose pumpkins will  be used in stir fry or roasted whole. He has asked for more squash next year, so that is what is going to be grown.  

Finally, we have a table and benches for picnicking, and this means that the family can use the plot for small social gatherings. This binds a family together and makes them all have a share in the allotment.  

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August 24 2017 5 24 /08 /August /2017 09:13

I have just returned from a lovely break in Lisbon, where we visited the national Botanic Garden, which is the oldest botanic garden in Portugal.What a lovely place! It is quietly set back from main roads so that you might miss it if you did not know that it was there, but it is quiet, except for the peacocks a-calling to their mates.Entry is very affordable. Maureen paid two euros and I as a "senior" paid only one. 

I was struck by how well-maintained the garden is. It is technically an arboretum, a garden dedicated to trees, but the grassy space between the trees is well-trimmed and the gardening is clearly of professional standard. There are many box hedges whose trimming is exact. What impressed me is the dedication to proper labeling. When it is necessary to name a plant you have a plaque giving all the technical terms necessary to its identification :genus, species, subspecies, family, habitat

On entry you are struck by a fine avenue of trees that re native to Portuguese territories overseas. You see a Bhodi tree, the type of tree under which the Buddha sat as he received his enlightenment. It towers massively over you, tall and slender. There are colossal tree ferns that were extant when the dinosaurs ranged the earth. The avenue has a fine collection of palm trees of a wide range of species. 

But the garden is rich in cycads. These look like palms, but they are  different and are a primeval kind of tree older than palms. Found in Australasia they have cylindrical trunks and a palm-like rosette of leaves on top. They are one of the two relict orders of trees that have struggled to  survive the dominance of gymnosperms and angiosperms, the others being Gnetales and Gingko. Their seeds are neuro-toxic  and so should not be eaten.Their seeds are akin to the seeds of the gymnosperms, as unlike angiosperm seeds they are naked

The garden is in two layers, the upper garden being the old palace gardens of the Portuguese king. Some of the old place buildings remain. There is also the official residence of the president of the republic in thee garden grounds.  Flowers are not the main element in the garden, but there is a long bed of agapanthus and bilbergia. There is a variety of shrubs, of which Wisteria springs to mind. 

Altogether this is a very enjoyable place to visit and I certainly recommend it to anyone visiting Lisbon. It is in the area known as Belem, a lovely area with a number of cultural attractions easily accessible from Lisbon centre by tram or bus, which take you down the coast in a straight run where you alight near a massive, unmissable and beautiful ex-monastery. 

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August 16 2017 4 16 /08 /August /2017 09:18

Genius Loci: comment

The inspiration for this story came from several sources: a television programme whose subject was Father Adam, the monk who supervised Coptic Christian hermits in the Egyptian desert; a programme about a nun who dwells as a hermit at the foot of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s sacred mountain; the book “Deeper Into God” by Brother Raoul, who lived for a while as a hermit in the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales and whose experience of praying at ancient Christian and pagan sites led to the key idea that something of  the character of a site lingers in places; and the Gospel  of Luke, which tells the story of the temptations of Christ, though the order of the temptations is the one used  by Matthew’s Gospel. The story was also inspired by “A Ring of Bright Water” which gave me the   setting on the remote coast of the Knoydart Peninsula.  

It deals with the spiritual experiences that come along with isolation and the dangers that accompany them. This has been a constant problem for the  eremitical life.

The title is a word play. Genius loci means in Latin the spirit of the place, but it plays on Loki, the name for the Norse God of evil. It is clear that we are dealing here with an evil spirit, a devil in fact. The name Antony is intentionally spelt in the traditional way without an h, as this links the hero with Antony the Abbot, the fourth century Egyptian Christian hermit who had so many challenging experiences of evil spirits, which in his case were “hallucinations born of his privations” to quote Saint Athanasius. Note that I purposely use the Egyptian spelling of Antony rather than the  modern one.

The devil in the story carries darkness with him. This shows that there are different levels of darkness, the mere darkness of a lightless night, but also there is a deep spiritual darkness of the soul that links to evil. This is the darkness of Hell. Note that the visitor has no need of fires, he sees enough of them where he comes from. Note also the lie. He is dressed as a hiker, but his boots are too clean. This suggests that he is a fake.  

The whole tale is an allegory which follows the temptations of Christ. These took place when Jesus retreated into the wilderness after his baptism, where he was challenged by the Devil. The first temptation is to use his power for material gain. Note that the Devil tries to seduce Antony into seeking wealth and fortune. The next is to seek power by fame and spectacular miracles, just as Antony is tempted to be a tv star. Note that the Devil says that he has good friends in the media! The third is to achieve power by evil means. Antony is urged to struggle to advance in the church and strive to become pope, a temptation that he rejects by pointing out that those who seek to be pope never make good popes.   

Finally, Antony turns the tables on the devil by asking him to pray. The devil cannot stand this and departs, leaving Antony free of the evil presence and darkness that have oppressed him. He finds his explanation in the gospels, but the story finishes with a warning, the Devil left him to return at the appointed time. Antony has won this round, but the Devil is not finished and will be back again. Antony must be careful, for the Devil must disrupt the work of the saints.  

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August 15 2017 3 15 /08 /August /2017 19:18

Genius Loci


Francis Beswick

Three months into his six month solitary retreat all was not going well for Brother Antony. True, the days were peaceful enough, and the silence enjoyable. He relished great views of the Western Isles, where in the early Spring the snow still capped the island peaks, and he loved the gentle whispering of the wind. But at nights when he was alone in the darkness of his remote location, he felt disturbed by a presence that was alien to his prayer. He had read somewhere that there had been a pagan temple in the region hundreds of years ago, and he wondered whether the disturbing presence was connected with that. But it was surmise, and he got on with his temporary hermit’s life.

Then one night when the wind blew around the isolated cottage and the darkness swirled round its ancient walls he heard a footstep on the gravel outside, and then a knock on the door.  He opened to see a walker, clad as you would expect in hiking boots and anorak, who sought shelter for the night. In keeping with his rule of hospitality he invited the stranger into his house, but as the stranger entered Antony saw that his boots looked surprisingly clean, and he sensed that as the stranger entered the darkness was swirling in with him.   

Antony asked whether the stranger, who had not given his name, was cold and whether he should put more on the fire, but the stranger demurred with a shudder and said that he had no need of fires. Nor did he eat.

Conversation was desultory until they turned to religion and the stranger suddenly said to Antony, “I greatly admire what you are doing, but you are an intellectually talented man, could you not make more of your life than this, you could become rich and famous.”

But Antony demurred, saying that he did not require riches and fame, so the stranger changed his tune.

“Being isolated here means that you are unknown. How can you do your work if no one knows you. I have many friends in the media who can take you onwards. You can be a great media personality. Think what you can do for the church if you get on the television.”

But Antony replied that whether or not he ever got on the television was for the future, but the time was not now and that he would do so only when God called. Moreover, he could not break his retreat, for that would undermine the spiritual strength that he sought.

But the final suggestion was the one that bit hard.

“The church is so short of power these days, and people in high places are so inadequate, there are not the great men of the past. You can serve the church by seeking power. Go home, strive to become a bishop, even higher. You have the potential to be pope. Think of the good that you can do.”

For a moment Antony hesitated as the last temptation spoke to his deepest fears, needs and hopes, but he retorted, “None who have sought to be pope have ever been a good one. If God wants me to be pope he will  send for me, until then I will wait.”

Then on an impulse Antony said, “Shall we pray together?

But the stranger stood and said, “Time for me to depart.”

And without a word he left the cottage, his footfall lasting for but a moment as he retreated into the night. As he left Antony felt the darkness receding and sensed that the presence that had beset him was going away. 

Then in a flash of insight he turned to his Bible and opened it at Luke’s gospel, the story of the temptations of Christ, where one line struck him like a revelation.

“Then the Devil left him, to return at the appointed time.”

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June 29 2017 5 29 /06 /June /2017 18:08

Having the right balance of plant nutrients is essential to the production of vegetables and flowers.There are several main nutrients. Carbon is provided through CO2 and water goes with it as the two interact with sunlight to drive photosynthesis. But there are three big ones: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, known as NPK. When you see the NPK rating on the side of a fertilizer packetyou know the relative amounts of these three essentials. Nitrogen is vital for green growth and deficiency results in reddish leaves. Potassium is good for fruit and phosphorus for roots and general plant health. An excess of nitrogen produces abundance of green growth, but deficiency of fruit, as the excessive foliage places demands on the plant's resources. For this reason you should not allow excessively lush  growth on tomato plants, as this may be at the expense of the fruit.

But there are other less important nutrients.Magnesium and manganese are important for leaf growth, and their deficiency produces yellowing between leaf veins and in the case of manganese patches of dead tissue. This sort of deficiency is common on sandy soil, which can also be a cause of calcium deficiency, which often is recognized by black or brown spots.Bitter pit is seen on fruits, and some plants, notably Bramleys, are susceptible. Iron deficiency is found most commonly on limestone soils. Its symptoms are bleaching or yellowing. 

Some minor nutrients are born, copper and molybdenum. Molybdenum is rarely deficient in British soils, but it is seen mainly in cauliflower and broccoli, where the leaf blade can either die or shrivel to a thin whiptail. The remedy is to lime the soil. Boron deficiency is similar to calcium deficiency, but is commonest on soils derived from granite parent rocks. Copper deficiency occurs on a range of soils and is hard to identify . 

Prevention is better than cure. Applying a rich variety of soil enhancers will help. Seaweed, be it raw, seaweed meal or liquid, is a rich source of nutrients. Rock dust helps, especially if it is derived from a variety of rock types to ensure that there is as wide a nutrient range as possible. Compost and manure always help. 

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May 5 2017 6 05 /05 /May /2017 00:59

May is a glorious month. The weather has been warm and the ground dry. I have had to bring my son along. He is thirty six and,let's face it,  faster than I am. I let him get on with the watering while I dealt with the planting. It took ages today, as England has been going through a warm, dry patch. I am glad of a younger man, and am hopeful that his wife,who has expressed an interest in taking part in the allotment, will come along, for many hans make light work. 

The late frost in April has killed the aubergine [egg plant] and the potatoes suffered because of frost, but they are recovering. I am waiting a few days before I plant tomatoes because of frost,  but several of the vegetables are growing nicely.

More later!


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February 28 2017 3 28 /02 /February /2017 15:03

Friends,  I will commence with the state of the Federation. As you know the atmosphere within it is pleasant and there is no acrimony, but the size of the Federation is still small. Not many sites feel any interest in joining, and I  have managed to recruit but one new member this year. So as we are all aware that Trafford allotments need a political voice, the first issue facing us is to think of  ways to develop the Federation.

Let me stress that it is not a substitute for the Forum, which is a council body, but we must be aware that the forum has a limited lifespan, for it is very much Janet Long’s baby, and she is not far from retirement, so it probably finishes as and when she retires. So we will need a federation to represent us.

It seems to me that we must be seen by council and public as a resource and not a nuisance. So we must present our sites as attractive, even beautiful when possible, and maybe we can be a source of advice to amateur gardeners in our community. We must never cause any problems to the council, and we must ensure that we make friends with local councillors to support us in our endeavours.

We must all be aware of the rationale for allotments, which was primarily food for the ordinary people. But we must also be cognisant of the health benefits, both physical and mental, that ensue from gardening. The social benefits are enormous, when allotments are run rightly. We must be constantly promoting these to society and to politicians.

I thank you for your attention and invite your comments.

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