Wednesday 28 September 2016

The ivy mining bees

I went to have another look at the bees down at the allotment today. You may remember I mentioned that they've taken over an entire plot. They are flying very low over the ground, and have been painstakingly excavating holes.

Most of the ones here are males, who don't sting. The females are unlikely to sting unless squashed. They're small bees, and I assume they've been enjoying the ivy that's blooming in the hedge along the allotment site boundary.

Apparently they are fairly new to the UK, having arrived only a few years ago. They are flourishing while other bees are in decline. And happily they don't harm our native bees.

I found a couple of them struggling in a water trough. I fished them out and put them in the sun to dry. One of them was off flying almost at once and didn't seem waterlogged at all.

I'm hopeful that the allotment folk will respect them and let them have these few weeks in the sun.

Many thanks to CT for educating me in the ways of the ivy mining bees.

Monday 26 September 2016

Falling in love again

Poor allotment. I didn't love it enough this year. In fact it took on the mantle of millstone towards the end of the season. I didn't spend enough hours there and the weeds saw their chance. I had big plans for a few days spent there in the summer holidays, but somehow it didn't happen. Where did the holidays go exactly?

I'd been thinking about whether to continue with the plot or not. Anyone who has one will know what I mean. It's the weeds mostly. The ground can be completely clear one day and invisible below a swathe of weeds within a month. But I know that part of me would be heartbroken to say goodbye. And I know myself. My moods and energy roll in and out and change constantly. The day would come when I would regret it.

In a spare moment last week I flicked open Cleve West's "Our Plot".

It's the story of the allotments he and his wife tend. Despite both working full time, they took on an overgrown plot, then another one, then another one, then, well, you get the picture. The photographs are sumptuous. Beans climbing up wigwams, raised beds filled with every type of edible, paths disappearing into green jungles, higgledy sheds, oh, it's paradise.

I know my plot isn't likely to look like that, but it gives me hope that with some effort I might capture a bit of the magic. When the weather is dry I shall be back down there, clearing the ground ready for the dormant season. I'm deploying weedproof fabric over the biggest areas until I'm ready to plant. Hopefully that will help.

The last time I was down there the littlest boy pointed out that the weeds were flowering and that there were bees on the flowers. So I'm thinking of it more as a wild flower patch.

In the middle of the allotment site there's a plot that's absolutely covered with bees. CT kindly identified them for me, as ivy mining bees. There are thousands of them, just on this one plot. They are flying only a few inches from the ground and disappearing into holes in the earth. I'm on a mission to save them from destruction, as I have a feeling that certain factions like to exterminate anything wild.

So you see, I'm back in love with my plot and the whole allotment thing. It's only ever a momentary wobble I think. It can be quite overwhelming at times, but I shall try and make it more manageable next year and put in a bit more effort. And any time I'm not feeling it I shall get out Cleve's book and spend a happy hour looking at his beautiful plots.

Sunday 18 September 2016

A good book spoiled

We made our annual pilgrimage to see the donkeys on the beach yesterday. The littlest boy does love them so. He pretty much loves all animals in fact, much as I did when I was small. At the end of the day their saddles were taken off and they had a bit of a free range and a roll. We imagined them going home to a nice grassy field. Let's hope that's right.

Today there was football this morning, and a very late lunch. I had an idea that I might do a few things about the place in the afternoon; take down the runner beans and the remaining tomatoes, put washing away, pot up some plants, plant out some purple sprouting broccoli, run a duster about the place and zip round with the hoover, you know, nothing too ambitious. The littlest boy was in the mood for cooking however. And the biggest boy said something like, "I was going to ask if I could do some cooking too, but I was going to wait until mum had cleared lunch away before I asked so I get to do mine first because I thought of it first." Aargh. In the end he made an ambitious black forest surprise cake. It was indeed a surprise. We got into a desperate Bake-Off style disaster trying to roll up little swiss rolls to put between two bigger discs of sponge. It was not attractive. But there was sponge and jam (tayberry, not cherry - this was the black forest surprise) and cream and we can live with that.

The littlest boy opted for chocolate rock cakes from his Winnie the Pooh cookbook. Flicking through the "Party" section I was surprised to note a recipe for "Cider Cup for a Party". The idea of firing up 8 year olds on cider mixed with lemonade and orange squash is novel. I'm imagining it would slip down quite easily. The book was first published in 1971. Is this what children were drinking at parties back then? I only remember jelly and ice-cream. And iced gems and those iced ring biscuits.

Back to now, and I'm in a bit of a grump about a book. I've just abandoned two books and settled on a third, "The Suspicions of Mr Whicher", which promised to be excellent. I hadn't heard of the author before (Kate Summerscale), so a few pages in I googled her and had a quick read of her Wikipedia page. And lo and behold, in about the second line in the murderer's name was revealed and just like that the whole book has been spoiled for me. I am cross, cross, cross. And undecided whether to press on and read it or not. Thoughts?

Something I must just run past you, on the subject of dogs, did you know there is such a thing as a flandoodle? Do you love that as much as I do? They are half Bouviers des Flandres and half poodle. If I'm honest they're not the most attractive dog you'll ever see, and I have a suspicion that they were just invented because of the fantastic name. I would certainly happily have one, purely for the pleasure of going round saying, "Of course it's a flandoodle you know." There seems to be a craze for crossing all sorts of things with poodles and making up novelty names for them. Has anyone asked the poodles if they mind?

I'll leave you with a question the middle boy asked me earlier. "Mum, can I have an axe?" I thought he was going to say "apple" so I almost said yes by mistake. I'm still formulating a proper response.

Thursday 15 September 2016

Dog days of summer

These last few warm summer days are wonderful aren't they. Down at the plot there are things buzzing everywhere. There was some sort of mass bee event in town today as well, swarms moving around and looking for somewhere new to be.

I haven't been at the allotment much lately, and it shows. There is much work to be done. I picked two enormous tromboncino squashes. They're summer squashes and I use them like courgettes, so they were a bit big to be useful and ended up on the compost heap. I feel less guilty about that having seen Monty Don compost his excess produce.

I finally grew a smattering of rudbeckias this year (the second photo). This one's rudbeckia "Cherry Brandy". I may have grown it just for the name. Although that colour is one of my very favourite in the garden. Some of the cosmos turned out to be white after all - you may remember my packet had some bright pink ones in it by mistake. They are still flowering happily in the garden.

I pottered around out there today, weeding and fiddling with pots. I'd like to get the allotment sorted before winter really. I didn't last year and it made a big difference. If I can clear it and get weedproof membrane down it will be a good start to the season. The trick is to do it before the soil gets too wet to walk on.

I might leave some of the plot covered next year and work on a smaller area. It will fit better with my time constraints. I have two enormous gooseberry bushes and a big blackcurrant bush that I'd quite like removed, but as it would be an absolutely mammoth (and painful) job I shall no doubt leave them. They are doing quite a good job of suppressing the weeds.

I hope everyone is enjoying this last blast of summer. Wishing all a good weekend. CJ xx

Monday 12 September 2016

At the country fair

To be honest, the local country fair wasn't exactly my sort of thing. Too much emphasis on killing stuff. Hunting, shooting and fishing. In fact the bumper stickers were making me cross before we even got into the show ground. But the urchins all found their bag and were happy, so I kept my opinions to myself. The biggest boy spent a long while playing with expensive cameras and lenses. The middle boy had a go at fly fishing. And for the littlest boy there were dogs, dogs everywhere.

Sadly I missed the dog show class I was most looking forward to, that of "Dog looking most like their owner". I did see a few hot contenders walking around the place though. Shaved head muscle men with sleek muscle dogs. Long haired women with long silky eared dogs. And quite a few Statement Dogs. You know the type, enormous matching great danes or giant Hound of the Baskervilles type things. It's safe to say we have completely immersed ourselves in the world of the dog lately. Although the dog show did get a little wearing after a while. The other half and I amused ourselves by sniggering childishly over the "Best rough b*tch" class and "B*tch the judge would most like to take home".

I would have liked to seen the morris dancing. It always reminds of that quote, "You should try everything once except incest and morris dancing". And there was a Wurzels tribute band that I'm betting was in a league of its own. As it was I endured a gun fanatic waving his shotgun around and banging on about how fantastic guns are and a plummy Master of Foxhounds explaining what happens to hounds when they are too old to be of any use to him. An exercise in keeping my mouth shut. I'm glad the little people had a good time, but I fear we won't be going again any time soon. I prefer the big county show with a larger emphasis on farming. They have really big cheeses and really big cows to look at. That's far more my thing, I love big cheeses.

I'll leave you with a gem of a conversation I had with the biggest boy about half an hour ago. On showing him images of Hieronymus Bosch paintings.

Me:  "Look at these pictures by Hieronymus Bosch."

Him (after peering at them for a moment):  "They look like "Where's Wally" don't they."

I wonder if that's where they got the idea.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Two hundred and fifty grams of carrot

A final picnic and alas it was all over, summer hols done and everyone was back off to school. I've been a muddle of post holiday melancholy and new year, new broom energy. There's nothing like looking at your life from somewhere else to fill you with ideas and plans is there. The littlest boy and I are still sighing over North Wales and the dog we left behind, but we're bearing up as best we can.

I finished the book above and I've just given up on "The Versions of Us". I confess I got confused. I can just about follow a single story, but weave three together and I'm lost. I found it just a teensy bit dismal as well.

I had the cookery conversation with the biggest boy earlier this evening. You know the one. "Oh yeah, mum, I've got cookery tomorrow." "You're kidding. What, actual cookery, with ingredients?" Turns out, yes, it is actual cookery with ingredients. Carrot muffins. I had everything he needed in the kitchen, except carrots, which I happened to have in the garden.

Carrot 1:

Oh dear. Carrots 2, 3 and 4:

The biggest boy is a little concerned with what is cool these days. Well-made, waterproof shoes - not cool. Shoes with the right label, no matter the quality or provenance, exactly like the ones everyone else has - cool. You know how it goes. I fear that carrot number 1 would make him a marked man. I'm willing to bet no-one else will have such a carrot.

I gave them a quick swill but to be honest it didn't really improve them. I know all you grow-your-owners will be seeing a lot of useable carrot here, maybe even a magical 250g, but it's a harsh world out there, if your carrot isn't cool it's all over.

Hurray for a small triumph.

One out of five. Good enough I think. For tomorrow, carrot soup.