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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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January 22 2015 5 22 /01 /January /2015 15:18

We must never think of our gardens as places where the only life is us and our plants, with a few guest birds. Once you plant a garden you invite life in and it receives the invite gratefully. On my plot we have some welcome and not so welcome life.

First, the birds. You can never say which birds will arrive, but I can guarantee that when I dig the she-robin will arrive. I know it is a she because of the light breast, the male is the redder of the two. She likes to wait at a safe distance from me, and as I move on she pecks at the uncovered insects, and this is at whatever time of year I dig. There is also a wren who flits from soil to bushes with the swift darting flight so characteristic of her species. I have never seen her close up, even though she lives near my ground. The wood pigeons are beautiful, but they will strip the hearts from your brassicas unless you net them. An occasional visitor is thrush who pops in for a quick snack on insects, as is the blackbird; and the crows caw in the trees above us, but they are too cunning to come down when a human is around.

The wood pigeons' great enemy is the fox, whose earth is I know not where, but she oft visits my plot, lying stealthily in my neighbour's tall perennials and bushes until an unsuspecting wood pigeon lands too close. Then she takes her prey to one of my nice, soft raised beds on which she can dine in comfort. I say she. because I have seen her, sunning herself cheekily on a neighbour's plot. You can tell it is a she because of the thin tale. You can tell when she has visited because she leaves only white feathers, even the slender bones are crunched away.

My yearning to attract hedgehogs has not been very fruitful. I found a dead one, but that's small comfort, but when I gave it a decent burial the fox dug up the corpse. I had to put a slab on top of the grave of what was left. I also found a rat in my compost bin, probably eating some damaged windfall apples that I had thrown in. It is gone now. I am pretty certain that there are wood mice, as they have the habit of digging up newly planted peas, but you never see where they dwell. The grey squirrels from the trees on the lane outside have a habit of arriving on some plots, but I find that netting keeps them down. Dogs never get into the allotment, not being good climbers, and for some reason we never see cats, there is probably food for them elsewhere.

Wild bees are found. I recall once thinking that my fruit trees had set multitudinous blossom and wondering why I was so blessed. Then when moving some pallets I found bumble bees swarming round my legs. They were nesting under the pallets, and I knew why my fruit trees were so well pollinated! We also get honey bees, but in smaller numbers. The bees love to forage on my borage plants, whose blue blossom appeals greatly to their taste. And they swarm round it.

Insects abound on allotments, too many to count. Ladybirds are always welcome. But I as delighted to find that my new pond had attracted a water boatman. It must have been windblown to the site.

The world belongs to all the creatures in it, not just to humans. They all have their place in it, and as the garden is part of the world, there is place for more than humans in it.As long as we save the plants that we want, we need not complain about other creatures in the garden. They are not bound by human law against trespass.

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October 28 2014 3 28 /10 /October /2014 18:45

The summer growing season is over, and allotments are being put to bed. But for allotmenteers there is still work to be done. It is still too early to prune fruit trees, for apples need to be pruned in January, and I have an experienced nurseryman son who is offering to do the pruning. I have a stump of a pear tree to grub up. The tree underperformed and I found some rot, so sadly it had to go. But grubbing up a stump is harder than felling a tree. Again, my thirty three year old son is promising to assist me. There are times when realize that I am sixty four and he is thirty three, and that the physical difference is showing.

But for me October begins a period of re-organisation and planning. I am moving some of the raised bed around. I use pallet collars, and I am planning to put one atop the other to create deep raised beds. The vegetables to go into them, parsnips and carrots, vegetables that like deep soil into which they can grow long and large. I had a three and a half pound parsnip this week, and have been munching through it steadily at dinner. Here's hoping that next year there are giant ones to come from the new deep beds.

The last of the sweet corn is to come out before the  squirrels get to it. That's due to be taken up tomorrow.

Yet soil preparation is the main task. I am a bit annoyed. The manure deliverer promised to come on Tuesday, but didn't but the weather was bad, so I forgave him. He didn't come on Saturday, no trailer, but Sunday was inexcusable. He had a hangover! That's not the way to run a business. So I am looking for another source of manure. I might use my traditional fall-back position: pelleted chicken manure and lots of purchased compost. But I have been trying to get leaves to mulch the ground. I got some myself and covered one of the beds, but we are phoning the council, which tries to collect fallen leaves before November 11th, Remembrance Sunday. If possible, I cover all the ground with leaves. They starve weeds of light, keep the ground warm and when they rot condition the soil. I was going round the streets tomorrow harvesting leaves, but I have been asked to apply for a journalistic post, and must work hard at my application. But my wife is in London tomorrow and my son on holiday in Portugal with his fiance, so I am having a peaceful day to myself. I might get some work done in the afternoon, but that depends upon the currently inclement British weather. I am going to get some rock dust. Powdered granite works wonders for mineralization.

Yet committee work goes on. I am membership secretary. I have been chairman, but stood down a few years ago when I was having health problems, now healed. But we are having a new path surface through the allotment,as the present surface is rutted. But we are having electricity at last, so that will have to be done first. There are also two small trees to come down. Jeff, who has a chainsaw, is doing it, but he has a bad back, so when he is ready I know not. But early one morning I will be round to help, with my hard hat for safety. We need to do it early so that there is no one in the car park when the trees fall. So October is not a lazy time for allotmenteers, that's if they take their plots seriously. 

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February 26 2014 4 26 /02 /February /2014 15:12

One of the most important families of food plants is the Brassicas. Several of them belong to the same species, the extremely variable Brassica Oleracea. What they have in common is that they enjoy soils of about pH 7, so slightly more alkaline than many other plants.


Many descend from the wild cabbage. The ancestor was known as the colewort, an early version, from which came the extremely useful kale. Those of us who have grown this family will be aware that kale seems to be less attractive to slugs than many of its relatives are. This makes it safer to grow as it requires less protection, But descended from colewort was Brassica oleraceae. This one plant species gave us cabbage, Broccoli, calabrese, cauilfower and sprouts, all of which are varieties of a single species. Generally they are robust plants, though Broccoli is  hardy to minus 18 degreees, but my last venture into Broccoli coincided with a harsh spell when the weather one night reached minus 21! All dead overnight.  With the variable weather that we have been having in the UK I am sticking to hardier varieties.



3626511648_ef096da39a.jpgNote the cross shaped flower heads that characterise this family.


Also within the Brassicas is kohl rabi. This is newer to production in the UK, but is still Brassica oleraceae. You eat not the leaves, but the swollen stem just above the root. Some people say that it tastes of turnip. I would say that there is some truth in this. Turnip, though, is grown for the swollen root. Its near relative, swede, is also a Brassica; both of them  belong to Brassica napus. Oddly, the yellow plant that covers many British fields at the moment, oil seed rape, is also a Brassica napus, but it is grown for its oil, which is useful for cooking.Many people believe that its pollen is particularly effective in causing hay fever. When my son was involved in agriculture in Worcestershire, West Midlands of England he would come out of his house in the morning, smell the rapeseed pollen coming down from the Cotswold Hills and know that his hay fever was coming on. 


There are two herbs that come from this family. One is horse radish, the strongest tasting root in the whole family. The other is mustard. It is interesting that the smallest members of the family have the strongest taste, as maybe the taste in larger members is diluted by size.


Brassica rapa is known a pak choi, Chinese cabbage. This is in fact two different subspecies. It has the advantage that it is a plant that can be planted later in summer, as is the case with some other Chinese vegetables.


Brassicas can be susceptible to club root,a fungal disease that causes roots to swell and become less effective. A good defence is to lime the soil and to rotate your plants over a long rotation. Do not grow Brassicas on soil where there is club root for many years. Brassicase are also susceptible to slugs, although kale is the least attractive to them. Another enemy are the two species of cabbage white butterfly, whose caterpillars eat into the leaves. Netting is the best defence. Cabbage root fly lays its eggs near to the cabbage and the larvae burrow into the soil and eat into the roots. Cabbage collars are a useful defence, as they are put round the stem of the plant and thus give the larvae further to travel. They seem to work. Wood pigeons often attack cabbage plants and eat at the heart. . Netting is the best defence.

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January 9 2014 5 09 /01 /January /2014 15:07



 A few years ago I and my wife, Maureen,  visited Ireland, and we took a trip to part of North West Sligo, whence my maternal great grandmother's family had emigrated over a century ago. Ireland of today is a comfortable place to live, but as a gardener I was interested in the soils, and I was somewhat daunted by what I saw. We were very near the shore, and I thought that the soils were thin and exposed to the salt-laden winds that sear that landscape near Rosses Point. I could see why my ancestors made the decision to go to England. The land was too poor to farm.


Yet many of us nurture a dream of living near the coast. For some it is a retirement dream, or the thought of a coastal business, but others dream of self- reliance.  Well, the coast has advantages. You can grow vegetables and keep chickens, etc, and you can also do a bit of fishing or foraging. But there are difficulties of coastal self-reliance. The most obvious is that nowadays there have been incidences of coastal flooding, only in the last week or two in the British Isles, as storm surges bring waves inland. I have no dream of gardening on a shore prone to flooding, and a house there would be vulnerable. Self-reliance is a dream, but it is only for realists. An unfeasible operation soon becomes nightmare.


You must consider certain factors: how near to the shore do you propose to live, and how exposed the shore is. My daughter lives on the South East side of Anglesey above the Menai Straits, some distance back from the shore, where she is definitely not exposed to coastal flooding, and the bulk of the island protects her house from salty winds [She is not a practitioner of self-reliance and probably  looks upon her Dad as lovably nuts. She is probably right.] So if you want to be self-reliant near the sea, stay a bit back from the coast and nowhere near a stream prone to flood, if you can avoid it.


Yet there are no limitations on livestock. You can keep chickens, turkeys and various mammals like pigs or cattle near the coast, but you need to be sure that if the land is floodable they can easily be rescued. Having to leave animals to drown or not bothering to save them is horrible. If you cannot guarantee an animal's safety, do not keep it.You can also do many of the activities of self-reliance, such as making bread and wine, pickles and other preserves without thinking about how near the coast you are.


Growing vegetables  is a key part of self-reliance, but here is where you must consider the salt in the soil and the air. All coastal areas have some exposure to windborne salt, which is not good for many plants, some of which cannot tolerate it. But there are solt tolerant varieties and there are techniques for minimising salt in the soil. The main technique is raised beds. The soil below the raised bed should be heavily turned over before the bed is raised above it. Horticulturalists advise going down to nine inches and working compost into the hole. This will provide salt free soil


You can choose salt tolerant varieties. High salt tolerance is possessed by kale, spinach and asparagus; beet also descends from sea beet, which still grows wild on our shores, [I saw some in Anglesey last week] so it is easily salt tolerant. There are some that have salt tolerant varieties.Potatoes have medium salt tolerance, and there some new varieties that are stronger in this respect. Tomatoes, peas and lettuce also belong in the salt-tolerant category. Broccoli and some squash varieties can thrive in coastal conditions, and there are some varieties of cauliflower that can produce results in spring in the milder conditions that are found at the coast. However, radishes, celery and beans are not suitable for coastal conditions. Worthy of mention is an apple variety, Bardsey Island, which was found growing wild on Bardsey, and is therefore of proven salt tolerance.Onions and leeks can also be grown.


Self-reliant people may be tempted by foraging. Mussel picking is a popular activity, but remember there are local by-laws and regulations enforced by the authorities in each area that determine where and when you may pick shellfish, and how much. Check the regulations for your area for each type of shellfish that you want. Also ensure that you only pick from clean waters. and local advice wil be needed for this. Do not take shellfish in months without an R in the name, as these are the breeding months when the flesh is poorer. It is also at this time that toxic algal blooms can be found in coastal waters, and these can poison the shellfish and you, seriously. You always need to follow the basic advcie of leaving the shellfish to purify for a time that differs for each variety, which you will need to research. Only then can you cook and eat, and even then follow all the cooking guidelines for each type.


Fishing for your supper is also attractive, and I enjoy some sea fishing. But not only is fishing a skill, it can be dangerous. There have been people washed away while fishing from exposed rocks or on stormy shores. You will need to work out whether you want to beach cast or fish from pier or boat, and then get the hgear suitable for your fishing type. If you want to fish from a boat, ensure that you know the local waters and take advice. It is easy to get into trouble at sea, and there are tricky waters off parts of the British Isles.When fishing, the rule is safety first; the sea is unforgiving.


Some people forage beach plants, but I see little use in most of them, many of which are too rare and so are forbidden to foragers. All multicellular algae [seaweeds] can be eaten, but you must ensure that you take them from clean waters, and some are not worth the trouble, either because hey take too long to cook or to chew. Dulce is in the latter variety. It is even when cooked certainly chewy, and while the Welsh eat laver in laver bread, cooking the stuff requires heroic patience. But these seaweeds can be great mulch for your garden. I have seen masses of blackberries on land just behind the coast, and these can be foraged; and on a trip to Scotland my son Peter and I foraged raspberries by the side of a  sea loch, so these are available to the forager.


Doing some research as to what is available and possible in your chosen area is a must. Self-reliance by the sea is a great idea, but you have to get it right, be realistic and stay safe.

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January 7 2014 3 07 /01 /January /2014 11:26



I harvested the last of my carrots this January, several of them were large, two or more inches across and reasonably long. I have had carrots that reached from my elbow to nearly my knuckles, that's more than  a foot long. But it was not always like this. There were failures. My first attempt, when I grew directcly in the ground, was a disaster, as none grew, and then I found that our plot is bad for carrots, so no one did well. I don't know why. So I tried containers, and it worked, but the carrots were small and stubby. I then found out that I had been watering from the top, and if you do this the carrots never grow long. This is because the root extends to find water, and if it has to go deep it grows long, and then begins to fatten out with nutrients. If all the water comes from the top the plant is too lazy tog row long.


I settled on containers. First I used cut down plastic drain pipes, and these were great. I got my longest ever carrots from them, but they were vulnerable. When we had very heavy rains, the water washed the carrot seedlings down and I got nothing. I finally settled on raised beds, which worked well for  both carrots and their kinsfolk in the Umbelliferacea, parsnips.


The key with carrots is that they like a soil which is deep, light and free of obstacles. If the soil is deep the carrot will have an unimpeded search downwards for water and nutrients, but if there are stones to obstruct its path it begins to fork and is harder to peel. Our carrot originated in Afghanistan, so it likes a bit of sand in the soil, so I always like to mix sand and compost together to grow them.The sand lighten the soil and the compost provides the richness that fattens the carrot.


Ideally, if you can get the water in from the base of the raised bed, the carrot will lengthen well. But you will need to thin the carrot seedlings, as they grow into each other and produce some very strange shapes. Actually shape does not matter, and it is only the sort of finicky people who only use supermarkets who bother about it.


Note also that carrots can be of different colours. The reason that we have orange carrots is that we took our carrot varieties form the Netherlands, who grew orange in favour of their national colour, which derives from the house or Orange, their royal family, so people think that carrots have to be orange. I have grown yellow and purple carrots, and the yellow ones are tasty. You can get black, green, yellow and white ones. You often see these on display at flower shows. All are equally good.


Parsnips are more or less the same as carrots where growing is concerned, except that they are hardier and easier to grow. They have large leaves, and the plant can produce some very large roots that are fat and deep. We have a soup maker and we mix parsnips into the blend. We are quite happy with what is produced. The carrots are used for the main course.


Both carrots and parsnips should be kept weed free to ensure that the soil's nutrients go to them rather than the weeds.It is better that the soil be cleared of weeds, particularly perennial ones before you plant, and never let any weed become large, as carrot seedlings are very vulnerable and can be shaded out.


But you need to protect carrots from the carrot root fly. This little beast likes to lay its eggs near carrot roots, and then the larvae eat their way into the root. There are two defences. The first is to use the fact that the fly cannot fly more than eighteen inches [forty five centimetres] above ground, so netting stretching higher than this defeats them. Secondly, palnt marigolds near the carrots. For some reason the fly hates the smell of marigolds and it is deterred by it.


Note that the carrot tops, the greens, are just as edible as the carrots are and can be used in salads.


Use a fork to take the carrots out. Be gentle with them, as they can snap, so lever up the area round the carrot and shake the fork to release it from the soil encrusting it. Spades are more likely to cut the carrits than forks are.

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December 3 2013 3 03 /12 /December /2013 10:01



Many of us enjoy a rural dream, where we move to a cottage remote from the town and live a country  lifestyle, generally a slow one and are at peace with ourselves. I have lived in both country and town, and the country in which I did live was the rural west of Ireland,a remote spot two miles from the nearest village and ten miles from the town. What a place! I loved it, but life took its turns and it was not for ever. We possibly  will return to the country one day, God willing,though not to Ireland.


Being realistic 


Age matters. As you grow older you are reaching the point where you might be able to afford the move, but it is the point when you need soon will begin to need  help, and this will generally come from relatives, so it is never a good idea to go too far away. So a long move is not a good idea. I live in North West England,so  Wales, where I have a married daughter, is the furthest that I would go. Having relatives nearby is always important for illness or emergencies, and also, let us be clear, for companionship .Furthermore, country people are no more sociable than townspeople are, and you might not get friends very easily. However, the incomers who have difficulty with country people are the ones who throw their weight around and expect things done their way. Respect the people who already dwell in the countryside and the villages. Doing so will pay dividends.


Furthermore, if you have children, remember that they may miss their friends; and teenagers need an active social life, so they may not feel sweet about a move. Having a reluctant teenager around is not a pleasant experience.All involved in the move need to consent and have a stake in the migration.


You must think of the practical necessities of life. Country life some distance from shops and facilities can be a burden, especially if you have no car, or if the car breaks down and needs repairs. Last week mine broke down in front of the garage where I have my cars serviced. Luck, but that's in a town.Go to the country with your eyes open.


Economics of the situation.


You need a source of income to meet the needs of your lifestyle, and indeed basic needs with some surplus. If you have a pension, all the better. I am currently on early pension and will receive the state pension in eighteen months, and my wife enjoys a pension too. You might not have a pension, though, and so you must think of what you will earn. There are many people who telecottage, work from a  rural location over the computer. Sometimes these are self-employed and at others employed by companies who allow them to work out of office, But beware, company policies can change and the firm that let you work out of office at one time might change its policy. What then? I am fortunate that my writing and my examining work can be done anywhere in Britain,so that is an advantage, but my wife still teaches part time, and that is not as movable as my work is, as it depends upon the availability of jobs in a new location. There are also parts of Britain where jobs are scarce. The basic rule for Britain is that the further North and West you go the economic opportunities become fewer. London is superb for opportunity, but it is quintessentially urban.A vitally important rule is that you should have the economic opportunities in place before you go. Setting off in hope is not good enough. A second rule is have a strong financial buffer of savings behind you. Such a buffer helps, as I found out last week when my clutch went. Not cheap!


There is also the problem of property prices. The utter failure of successive British governments to construct sufficient housing stock is raising house prices to obscene levels, so good rural accomodation in short supply and is expensive. House and land together cost much money. A property that you might be able to improve will cost less, but do you really want the unpredictable expense of a renovation, which always costs more than you expected?The older the building the more tricky the refurbishment, as you will see if you watch television shows on restoration.


Self reliance


If you get a piece of land, it is not a bad idea to grow from it, but I have heard of people who moved to get a smallholding and who found that they had neighbours who gave them difficulties, selfish yes, but a fact of life. On the other hand, there can be lovely neighbours.  There is also the reality of the rural dream to contend with. My father had a friend who moved in retirement to a smallholding back in his native Wales. At first he began with everything, some cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, geese, vegetables, but as he aged and the plot became harder, he cut down on the variety of his stock. It is not a good idea to overstretch. Specialise in a  few crops at first and then, if you are ready, expand in type and volume.


If you are wealthy enough to buy a farm, remember that running a farm is not like running a garden.A large farm is a business, not a hobby and must be run as a business.  It can suck up money and mistakes can be costly, so it must be managed properly to be viable and sustainable. There are companies that provide farm management services for people who own farms, and hiring  one of these can be very beneficial. Too large a farm can be a burden.However, a farm that provides jobs for rural people will be a good means of making you popular, especially if you are decent and generous employer.




Whether or not we move to the country is yet to be decided, but I know where I will go and what sort of property we are seeking.I know the family conditions under which I will make the move.  I know what my economic activities  will be, but what I do not know is the state of my health. No one knows the future and illness can suddenly strike as you age. I am not staking too much on the future.But at all stages of life you should retaun a dream.

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October 17 2013 5 17 /10 /October /2013 10:50



I have only once chopped down an apple tree, a much loved Bramley that had contracted canker after years of providing me with apple wine. I hated to do it, but all living things have their time. Since then I have planted three others, whose juice is fermenting in the kitchen, two of them anyway, the fruit of the third is not ready yet, though it will be soon.


Types of apple


Apples fall into three broad types; dessert, cooking and cider. Cider apple trees are becoming more popular again, and they can be quite prolific. One thing to know about dessert apples is that they fall into different pollination groups, a, b, c,d,e depending upon their time of ripening. To ensure that the trees pollinate you should ensure that they are planted in near one of their own group or one on either side, so that the pollination will take place. Otherwise you will not get any fruit. The nursery should advise which group the trees that you are purchasing belong to. Cooking apples fall into three groups, but the rule is the same. Within each group there is a wide range of different types. Apples also fall into two further groups, those that bear fruit at the tip and those that bear it along the branches. Be aware of what type you are planting.


All modern apples are grafted onto  rootstock. This means that they are not grown from seed. The reason for this is that when plants are grown from seed they are related to both parent plants, so that you cannot guarantee that they will be like the plant that you want. If you want them to be like the male, they will only be half that male. But grafting uses what we call vegetative propagation, and you can guarantee that the plant will be of the type that you want. But rootstock matters, as it determines the size of the tree. Some rootstocks are dwarfing, others semi-dwarfing and others standard. so when you are purchasing apple trees specify which sort of rootstock that you want. More specific  advice can be given by the nurseryman.




All fruit trees are to be planted at the dormant time of year, which is November to February. Make  square a hole wider than the roots and large enough to take the tree plus some compost/manure. It should also be deep enough to ensure that the tree can be planted to the point at which stem reaches the roots. Some people place a tube into the ground so that water can reach the roots. Place the tree in the hole and add some of the compost/manure, then fill back the hole. Tread down firmly so that no air pockets will be in proximity to the roots, as they will prevent absorption of nutrients, Water well. Then place a stake and fasten it to the apple tree. Use a figure eight knot, so that the twine will not be too close to the bark, as it can cut in and damage the tree.


After the first year prune the tree, cuttting any branches according to the instructions given by the nursery. You should only purchase from a nursery that provides instructions, as those that do not advise will be slipshod.  Pruning  involves  cutting some branch growth so as to facilitate root growth. The small apples growing in the first year should also be taken and composted without being allowed to grow, as you want to encourage root growth.




Pruning is an art learned by practice. It always looks easier in the books than it does when facing the complex reality of a tree. Apples should be pruned in January. All weak growth should be taken off, and so should any stems that cross another. If you have tip bearers, be careful not to prune the tips of any branches that you want to bear fruit. By Autumn you can see the fruit buds on the apples, so look for them before pruning.The aim of pruning is to clear unwanted growth, and good pruning should clear the heart of the crown so that the light can reach the centre of the tree. The ideal fruit tree is chalice-shaped.


One important point is that if you cut off the top of the main stem, the trunk, you will stimulate branch growth lower down and the tree will become bushy, as the auxin released by the axial bud at the top  that prevents other branches from growing is lost.  You control height, but you cannot thus control future growth.


If possible, paint over the pruned areas with a protective substance to prevent canker and various nasty fungi  getting into the vulnerable heart of the tree. Always keep your eyes open for fungal infection, and if you find it be ruthless. There is no cure. Get rid of the branch and burn it.




The soil around the apple should be kept fed with manure and compost. Around that old Bramley I used to have a compost heap and leaf mould bins, which provided a leakage of nutrient down to the roots. Leaves and leaf mould are always good for trees. Last Autumn I mulched around all my fruit trees with leaves taken from a generous local gardener, and they  protected the soil against damage from heavy rain, kept  it warm and provided some limited nourishment for the trees.Deciduous trees are naturally surrounded be fallen leaves in their wild habitat. I usually soak the leaves so that they are too heavy to easily blow away, and the winter rains keep them wet. You will see the leaves slowly disappearing in Spring as the microscopic fungi eat them away


However, it is sometimes a good idea to leave a small gap between the leaves that you lay down and the tree, as otherwise field mice that will enjoy living in the warm leaves through the winter might nibble the bark and damage the tree.


Leaf mould is leaves that have decayed for over a year. It is distinct from compost as leaves decay by fungal action rather than  by bacteria, as is the case with compost. Leaf mould contains some nutrients. 




Apples have many uses besides being simply eaten. I make apple wine out of mine, using a small cider press, but I also have a fruit and vegetable dehydrator, which provides me with dried apple. The dried fruit keeps really well.





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October 1 2013 3 01 /10 /October /2013 16:56



Humans have enjoyed a reasonably kind climate on Earth since the end of the last ice age, but this period may be coming to an end, as climate change makes for unpredictable and extreme weather events,  As a self-reliant vegetable gardener I have to ask myself how I will handle the new situation. Okay, to be realistic, at sixty three I am likely to be gone before the worst happens [unless there is reincarnation]  but there are still problems in our time, and everyone has responsibilites to hand on the best possible world to future generations. 


Britain is likely to be divide into two, roughly along the Tees-Exe line, an imaginary line separating lowland from highland Britain, South East from North West. South East is likely to be droughty, while pressures on water resources are rising, so the sprinkler may not be the solution.In fact, hosepipe bans are likely to be common. So what is there to do. Water conservation measures are going to be needed. These involve capturing rainwater in butts, but this may not be enough to maintain some gardens. Mediterranean style gardening may become more necessary in parts of the country. This involves paved courtyards with plants in pots. The plants selected for growing may have to be more drought tolerant, such as succulents. In places the lawn might have to go. Lawns are very water intensive, and much treasured lawns may not survive a droughty climate.


But North and West of the line we are likely to suffer stormier winters and more extreme weather events. It is this that is likely to hit me, as I am from South Lancashire. Floods can occur in unpredictable places after massive storms deluge certain areas, as we have seen in Cumbria and Cornwall, and several other places. Against such a flood there is little that a gardener can do, but there are means of dealing with less extreme events. Gardeners can defend against the strong winds that take away garden structures. Wind breaks do not need to be solid and they can allow some wind through. Certain kinds of mesh bring down wind speed to forty percent of what it is on the windward side.This is often enough to save a greenhouse or polytunnel from damage. Placed in strategic lines across the garden at ninety degrees to the prevailing wind direction much damage can be avoided.A wind break lowers wind speed for ten times its height, thus a break of one metre gives five metres protection.


At the last allotment committee meeting that I attended the issue was raised again that the rules that limit the number of greenhouses that we can have on the allotment are redundant, as they were formulated in the 1930s before climate change  was noticed. Many gardeners are now talking about the need for protected cultivation in the form of cloches and saying that there should be no limitations on the number of structures, as the unpredictable weather that we are having is making gardening difficult. These little structures provide some protection against the wind that does so much damage. Certainly the main issue on my allotment is wind. Put simply, the wind comes in from the Irish Sea across thirty miles of flat Lancashire countryside and we have no natural defences against it.Garden cloches may well be useful, but they will need to be well secured.


Raised beds give some protection against limited groundwater flooding, as they enable to plants to keep their heads above water.They are unlikely to prevent the damage from an extreme weather event, of the kinds that we have seen in Cumbria and parts of the South West. All that we can do is our best to protect our gardens and carry on,knowing that anyone who works outdoors must contend ith the climate.

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August 1 2013 5 01 /08 /August /2013 10:48




August is a time to take stock of your garden. For me, the Tatton Show is over, and our team have a couple of awards to our credit, a highly commended and best feature garden. We are now at the stage of harvesting crops. Potatoes will soon be ready and I have been getting some great cucumbers and onions.


But as beds are being harvested it is now time to rethink the design of the plot. The allotment chair has been thinking of entering the National Garden Scheme maybe next year.  This is a novelty and a challenge, as I have been building out of scrap wood.This was for ecological purposes, part of my green commitment, but it is not going to do for the future. Some of the scrap wood has gone already, but that was stuff that was in stock awaiting use.


The idea is to rethink the garden to make the design more space-efficient and also more aesthetic. I am going to take a out a path that lies between the flower bed, which needs upgrading, and some vegetable beds. These currently contain carrots and parsnips, so this change must await their harvesting. The paving stones from it will go to the handicapped plot nearby to make a paved area for wheelchair access. I am ripping up the scrap wood beds that lie behind and making beds out of pallet collars. I have some already, but I am moving some other pallet collars forwards.Another path will disappear, and the resut will be that the moving beds create two new paths, or rather do some widening, as one existing path is not wide enough.


This move has necessitated shifting water butts from the front to near the polytunnel. I shifted them single handed, partly emptied I must admit, and pulled muscles in my shoulder and neck. My daughter, who works in social care, will have a fit. "Daddy, you are sixty three,  not twenty three!"


The hot weather has meant that we have had to concentrate on weeding and watering, but now as England has finally got some rain, thunderstorms to be be precise, we can think about other things, the weeding having been done, though not fully. The paths need maintenance. I use woodchip, as it is a green, renewable material, but it does require maintaining, as it rots down into soil. It also can acquire weeds. I am busily exhausting the pile of woodchip delivered by the council. Suddenly my woodchip paths have sprouted mushrooms, not edible ones, but little brown ones. I am not treating these as weeds as I know that the mushroom mycelia are good for the soil. They create soil structure and retain water.


The tree area, which occupies the rear third of the plot, will be weeded, but I am not interested in taking out grass, but merely weeds. I will trim the grass, but I am awaiting the leaf deliveries that will commence in Autumn, which  I will use to mulch the whole tree area. I did this last year, and I have quite good crop of apples [future cider from my apple press.]


Finally, it is important to take time to help others. The handicapped have just taken up a plot, and they require lots of assistance. I have been showing some of them how to plant. We have donated the entries from our plot at the Tatton Show to the handicapped plot, but they need replanting, and this is a  time when the skill of planting can be taught. The helpers need assistance. They are all trained in psychology etc, but working with the handicapped means that they have to deal with a whole range of crafts,and it is difficult for them to master them all, especially as many are quite young, they need people like us to help and guide them.

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July 9 2013 3 09 /07 /July /2013 09:04




Well, what weather! In spring the weather was unseasonably chilly,  and cold winds lasted for more than a month. Crops were delayed and farmers worried. My beloved pumpkins struggled in the weather, as once I got them from the grow house into cloches the weather was unsuitable. I had to plant some more when the conditions improved.They are growing nicely now and some small, plump globes are appearing at their ends.But at a show meeting last night everyone was saying how the crops are late.


But suddenly the jet stream has changed and the British summer has become roasting hot. plants are springing up to catch up on late growth. This creates another problem, the need for  constant watering. Do gardeners ever stop complaining about the weather? But I have little to complain about really. South Lancashire is not a bad area for growing. The soils are good, we don't floods or get too many bad frosts,but I grumble about the wind on my allotment, which is quite exposed.  There are people who have more to complain about.


Let me remind you,For the Tatton Flower Show I am growing a three sisters bed, sweetcorn, pumpkins and beans, an old Amerindian/Native American technique. I have one metre by three metres, so there will not be a vast number of plants in it. I am placing the pumpkins in the middle and having beans and sweetcorn in pairs at the sides of them, to show companion planting. I reckon that I will mulch the uncovered soil with woodchip to prevent weed. My little bed is part of the larger entry from Trafford allotments. I am a small fish in a much larger bowl, and am I glad I am not doing the organisation! 


Beans were different. I have seen few slugs this year, through snails are in evidence, and some cabbages have suffered. The snails have had their way with some beans, which were eaten. Fortunately, we could gather some spares. My sweetcorn is growing, but I have yet to see any cobs, but the plants are so healthy, they will come.


The big day is Friday, when the plant specialists come round to take the plants to the show. On Thursday night Geoff, Barbara, my fellow entrants from Chadwick Road allotments, and I will descend on my plot and get the plants  out of the cloche. Some plants will have to be bagged, but I am hopefully doing that today. Gentleness is the word. Ease the sensitve plants out of their beds and into plastic bags. Nerves! I am a bit of a worrier, so I have visions of everything failing. I cannot help Geoff with his problem. He promised cauliflower, but his plants wilted when he was away. We don't know when the plant specialists will arrive, probably early Friday morning. I am hoping to be there. Geoff certainly will [he's retired.] What a great guy Geoff is, he's a really good friend, and Barbara is great as well. She is a nurse and is still working. 


Monday to Wednesday are build up days when I am allocated to work. The show ground at Tatton is a construction site closed to the public and accessible only to those with passes. High visibility jackets and strong footgear are the rule. There is  a tent for staff to eat and drink, and in this weather drinks are going to be essential. I will not be working for cash on these days, but I have just completed my exam marking period, which is late May to early July, and so have a bit spare in the bank. Anyway, as I do supply teaching to supplement my pension, this is the time of year when supply teaching is rare, so I won't be missing much work.

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