Thursday, 25 August 2011

Tomato woe

I know that I should have staked them the moment I planted them in the ground, but The Boy and his dad were grumpy and whining (yes, actually whining) to go home and get food. So we left the sturdy, perfectly formed tomato plants that I had carefully nurtured for so many months to put down roots unsupported. Unfortunately, I didn't personally get back to the allotment in the ensuing fortnight of hot moist weather to continue my nurturing - but boy did they put down roots in that time. Which meant that not only were the tomato plants not staked, they were also never pinched out, resulting in lots of foliage and few flower trusses. When I did get to them I removed as much of the excess foliage as I could, but quite frankly couldn't tell which branch belonged to which plant.

Unfortunately, because the plants are sprawling along the paths and over one another, the fruit that has set are dangling close to the ground and are being eaten by slugs, or are failing to ripen for lack of sun. We will be picking green tomatoes rather early this year and that our harvest from 10 plants (that could have kept us in tomato sauce almost all winter) will be measly. Sigh.

The tomato tale is painful, because home grown tomatoes are of course the very best flavour in the whole garden - and the few handfuls that we have brought home are delicious, a teaser of what could have been. I wish I could say that the woe stopped at the tomato bed - but it did not. The 2011 allotment tale is full of failures, of could haves and should haves and would haves.

There has been, and continues to be, a lot of empty ground, that could have produced something, anything, other than dust and weeds. Sigh.

There have been, and continue to be, a whole lot of weedy patches amongst the crops we did actually get into the ground. Sigh.

Thankfully, there have also been; and hopefully will continue to be; some small victories. We never come home empty handed, in fact we usually come home with a tote bag full of edible, organic veg (even if it is usually always some combination of beans, chard, beetroot and courgette). We have even eaten a few meals made entirely from our own allotment produce. We have a salad drawer full of new potatoes and two handsome and pungent braids of garlic hanging in the kitchen. The squash are fattening up nicely and the potatoes and oca are rampant. This week we finally sowed some late root crops. We have learnt a few lessons, such as quit your whining and stake the god damn tomatoes to never put off for tomorrow what needs to be and can be done today.

This year is OK and there is nothing we can do to improve that. Next year will be better and that is where our energy now needs to go. Sigh...of relief.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Grow sunflowers

We planted out five or six sunflowers on the allotment - a couple of giants that we are just starting to flower; and some of a smaller multi headed variety that are well into their flowering stage. Sunflowers are incredibly low maintenance and you get a lot of bang for your buck. They attract beneficial insects, add a cheerful splash of colour  - and eventually bear a nutritious (and relatively expensive to buy) food crop. What could be better than that?

It took minutes to separate the seeds from the flower heads - they are ready to go when the petals have fallen and back of the head is beginning to brown.

We have recently begun adding various seeds to our breads, and the small packets you buy in the supermarkets are expensive - paying for the convenience of a shelled seed. The shelling is relaxing however, like most things that make you use your own two hands; and can be done whilst sat watching TV or nattering.

We will store these in their shells (they will keep fresher that way) until we know we will need them and shell them in small batches, enough for a couple of loaves at a time. Some of the seeds will be resown next year, perhaps we will try and develop our own variety. There may even be a tallest sunflower competition. I envision a whole bed of them...did I mention how gloriously cheerful and pretty they are?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Not a creature was stirring

I have been up for almost an hour - very early for me, especially at this time when I try to stay in bed for as long as humanly possible to catch up on all the shut eye I am missing. The weather has turned decidedly autumnal and the breeze coming in to the open bedroom window caused a sneezing fit cured only by a nice warming cup of tea. The house is quiet - and I am awake to witness it. Bliss.

I wish I could summon up the energy to do something productive. I could be using this time to sort the laundry, to spin, to wash up last nights dishes, to weed the garden, to bake bread - but I would prefer to be here writing this, for the simple fact that I love stringing letters one after another; and I don't have as much time to devote to it as I would like. This blog is not just an opportunity to reflect on my daily life (important), to connect with like minded folk (also important), but it gives me a chance to exercise my grey matter a little in a life dominated by toddler talk, house work and nappies (all good things). If there is one thing I have missed from my university days, apart from the freedom to stay up until 5am and rise sometime the next afternoon, is the opportunity to write and to think deeply about things. These days, the opportunity to do both at the same time rarely occurs.

If you are in the UK and have been affected by the riots of the last four nights, I wish you the very best. As an outsider looking in from a city that as it turned out didn't erupt into violence and flames and mayhem, I can't comprehend the impact it will have on the individuals and communities who were affected. The dust appears to now be settling - I hope that the aftermath brings out the very best in us all.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Old friend

At first, it was the queasy fatigue of early pregnancy that stood between me and my then new but cherished friend. After that had passed, it was the frenzy of decluttering and organising that consumed much of my spare time. Finally, last month, when I placed my drop spindle and fibre on the new shelves we had bought to keep precious things precious, I felt a pang of longing and regret. I lifted her down from the shelf, examined her...and realised that in my condition there was no way that we could attempt to (learn to) do productive work together. I couldn't see my own feet, let alone a spindle. She would have to wait a little longer.

Today, she came down from the shelf and (literally) out into the sunshine. I repaired her – within two minutes of her arrival in this house, she was dropped from a fair height onto a tiled hearth. Now with a little TLC and Bostik, she is all patched up, though she still sports a fancy holographic bandage for show. We spent half an hour out in the garden, and celebrated our reunion with a length of purple roving whilst The Boys and The Girl played nicely inside.

This, from the fourth pack of roving I have attempted to spin, is the most even, finest thread I have produced so far; and for a 7 month absence from spinning and a slightly blustery day, its quite an achievement - I might actually produce a usable yarn!. I am still as enamoured with the spinning thing as when, for no good reason, it first captured my imagination. Completely smitten, still.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

When we're cleaning windows...

Thank you for all your lovely messages regarding The Girl. Still just peachy and easy going. Hope it stays that way! 

In a feat of extraordinary organisational ability (for me, anyway), Monday turned out to be quite a productive day. My biggest fear was that being alone all day with two small children, my relatively new-found and quite fragile grasp of routine housekeeping would fall apart completely. Whilst the influx of new 'stuff' that comes with a new person has left us space challenged once again; the untidiness isn't catastrophic.

The windows at the back of the house have required cleaning for a while and Monday was a gloriously sizzling day. Whilst The Girl slept, The Boy and I knuckled down to righting the wrongs inflicted on our windows over the year (yes, a whole year since I last tackled them, slovenly I know) by salt and dust laden wind and rain, sticky fingers, kitty paws and more recently, wax crayon doodles.

The last time I tried to clean them I used a generous dose of Ecover washing up liquid and a terry nappy to wash the worst off, followed by a vinegar and newspaper buff. Unfortunately the dish soap had no effect whatsoever on the salt deposits and I gave up and just left them at that. Turns out the secret to clear unsalted windows is a tiny amount of Ecover (less than a teaspoon in a few litres of water) with a good slug of vinegar added at the washing stage. This even, with a little bit more elbow grease, got rid of the wax crayon doodles that I had expected would need to be scraped off.

If you can enlist a willing toddler to do most of the hard washing work for you, and just rewipe any bits that they miss, so much the better - though perhaps reserve their slightly sloppy efforts to the outside of the windows, unless you want a soaked carpet. I have been trying to get The Boy to take responsibility for the messes he has a hand in creating; and whilst it can be a running battle to get him to pick toys up or tidy away his laundry, he will engage happily in any household task that involves bubbles.

After washing down the windows thoroughly, a generous spraying with a 50/50 cooled boiled water/vinegar mix (we have very hard water around here, hence the boiling), buffed vigorously with crumpled sheets of newspaper, left them gleaming:

The ink from the newspaper did run and smudge on the plastic window frames, but it was nothing that a damp cloth and the vinegar solution couldn't remove.

We spend around £25 on cleaning 'ingredients' every year, excluding the laundry - about £14 of which buys a five litre bottle of washing up liquid (the current one has done a solid 18 months and is just running out), the remainder going on soda crystals (which also go in with the laundry), bar soap (any hard soap will do), bicarbonate of soda, citric acid, vinegar and a bottle of thin bleach (used very sparingly it lasts a few years), along with the odd replacement scrubbing brush/broom head. All of the cloths are re-purposed from old socks, t-shirts and terry nappies.These simple ingredients, used in the right way, allow even lazy me to make things sparkle with relatively little effort. Also, if you are smearing your windows with expensive chemical laden commercial cleaners that carry a room ventilation warning, toddler labour is something you just can't engage, another great reason to invest in a few cheaper, greener cleaning basics...

How do you clean your house?


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