Before photos

1 March 2015

Here’s some photos I took on 25 October 2014, the weekend I took over plot 96 at Spital Farm allotments.

You can see that the plot is overgrown with ground cover. There’s a few rows of old broad beans. Generally it was in good shape for a plot that hadn’t been regularly tended for a year or so.

Later in the week, I’ll post more photos showing how far I’ve come clearing the site.


Newspaper plant pots

28 February 2015

The move from Devon to Oxfordshire was minus lots of plastic pots and other gardening paraphernalia. All replaceable, was my thinking. Anyway, the removers strictly speaking wouldn’t take pots or other “soiled” contents as we were going in to store.

At this end, I’d thought make my own pots. After seeing the price of those fancy plant pot makers, thoughts turned to papier mache or using flour and water glue.

To my great surprise today, Google came up with the excellent YouTube tutorial above on turning newspaper into biodegradable pots, ideal for seedlings.

This afternoon I turned out 20 or so. Unfortunately, all those Saturday papers I’d save had been binned by the other half.  So, today’s travel sections was sacrificed and the sports section will follow once I’ve had a chance to read it.

tomato plants

I’ve started out with two varieties of tomato – Sweet Million and Zuckertraube. I’ll save Gardeners’ Delight and Moneymaker for the football and rugby pages. (Notice the recycled in trays from our office move.)

Broad beans

Meanwhile, I’ve sown Masterpiece Green Longpod broad beans. As this is my first year in the new allotment, I’m not sure how broad bean and other legume seeds survive if direct sown. Back in Devon, direct sown might as well have been fed direct to mice.

 


I heart my allotment…

10 June 2013

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From my allotment…

You can see the sea. Or, at least the Bristol Channel.

On a clear day, Exmoor is visible to the east. Pop your head over the hedge and there’s a view of Dartmoor.

It’s a peaceful place. Many days, I’m a lone allotmenteer. My accompaniment is singing blackbirds, swooping swallows, the odd pheasant and occasional high flying buzzard.

Sometimes, there is the interruption of tractors, motorcycles or cars. But, we’re without the constant drone of traffic.

More disruptive are strimmers and other lazy people’s tools.

Me? I’m hardcore. All done by hand. Digging, weeding and cutting: all back, shoulders and ibuprofen.

And, when I have company it’s great to down tools for ten minutes or so to discuss your uncooperative onions, composting tips or whatever’s going on in the village.

For a couple of months, frozen ground or Atlantic storms mean Sunday is spent on the sofa rather then hacking away at clay. Come spring, whenever Mother Nature decides that might be, my crooked wheelbarrow can be heard rumbling through the village up to my plot.

The fresh veg is nice. But, the time to think, the fresh air, the gossip. In equal measure these mean I heart my allotment.


iPodolatory – 3 June 2013

3 June 2013

Tunes on the way to work this morning:


Peas and beans and peat free

1 June 2013

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Thanks to the late Spring and general lethargy, I’ve been a bit behind on sowing seeds this year. There are potatoes and broad beans up at the allotment about which I’ll blog soon.

Back at the greenhouse, peas and beans have made a slow start. The runner beans are left over White Emperor which last year succumbed to rain, slugs and 2012’s overall rubbishness. Given that the season is “two weeks behind” according to something I heard on the radio, it’s not too late for the runners. At least, they have a home to go to: dug, and fed last weekend.

Keeping the beans company both in the greenhouse and in the legume trench are Ambassador peas. These are another left over from the 2012 apocalypse. I found another variety in my seed stash – Karina – but opted to go with Ambassador which, given the vote of confidence, have kicked off nicely.

(Note the toilet roll approach to sowing though I’m still getting used to the narrower diameter tubes.

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Together with another run of peas, today was brassica sowing day: broccoli, cabbage and Brussels. Though brassicas tend to do well up at the allotment, this is all a bit of a punt. Most of the seeds are near the “use by” date and I’ve planted a bit late in the season.

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Of the three, I’m holding out for broccoli. That’s handy as it’s one of my favourite vegetables even though I swear my mum put it in front of us for 100 days in a row one summer.

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This the first year of using coir as my general planting out compost. I do try to stay with peat free though I’m not too fussed about organic or otherwise. Coir was the only type on offer at my last garden centre trip. As far as I remember, it’s ground up coconut husks or something like that. It seems to hold moisture quite well. Let’s see if it’s providing decent nutrients.


Our Olympics

16 August 2012

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The flame may have extinguished (with due respect to the Paralympics), but the effects on our national conscience and pride should live on for some time. I want to reflect on my experience of London 2012 – our Olympics.

From before 6 July 2005 when London was awarded the games, I was firmly in the camp of the cynics. I didn’t want the cost and disruption and, if it went wrong, the embarrassment of a festival of vanity for politicians for the benefit of a few sports men and women and sponsors.

I’m old enough to remember Mexico ’68 held in police state conditions, controversially overshadowed by civil rights protests. The “friendly games” of Munich ’72 were shattered by terrorism. The city of Montreal spent decades paying off the debt of the 1976 games with its half finished stadium. Boycotts ruined Moscow ’80 and Los Angeles ’84 (though the latter proved two things: the Olympics can run at a profit and soccer can succeed in the US). Athens, so desperate to get the Millennium games (which it didn’t get) spent too much on lavish, mostly once-used, facilities for 2004 that have had hardly helped its economy.

Not a great history. Then, 7/7 showed our vulnerabilities.


I wasn’t much of a fan of Seb Coe – Ovett was more likeable and Coe was rubbish as an MP. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary (bag carrier) he had a reputation as being useful for running out to the get the coffee. How on earth could he pull it off?

But, I love sport and as much as I would have gladly travelled to Paris to see the games and laugh at the cost to France, I wanted to be at London 2012. I nearly wasn’t and I was quick to have a moan at the unfair ticketing process. Come May I spent a couple of hours desperately fighting the Locog website to get two tickets for anything. To my surprise, in the second chance for lottery losers, athletics went on sale early. For the only time this year I used my Visa credit card. Only afterwards did I think about how I would pay off the debt.

Tickets: £590

Hotel: £66

Petrol: £60

Train: £16

Food and drink: £38

Programme: £5

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Obligatory “I was there” t-shirts: £16

Preamble done, I’ve decided to cover five aspects – my five, multi-coloured circles (geddit?) – of my day at Stratford and the whole Olympic experience from Beckham with the flame to the Who.

People

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I’ll try to steer clear of the People’s Olympics cliche, but perhaps more than anything the Olympics said a lot about Britons and our love with events and celebration. The monarchy is not for me, but I recognise that the Jubilee was a great event that most of the population embraced. In tough times, people decided it was a good chance to celebrate and feel good about themselves as individuals and as a nation.

We can be as patriotic as any other nation. I don’t think we’re as reticent and reserved as we might think.

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The overriding memory of Stratford and the torch relay before was of people. There were over 100,000 in the park on the day we went. Everyone seemed to be having an absolutely marvellous time. it was like being in a theme park without the rides and the cartoon characters. The volunteers played such a vital role in keeping people entertained, even when they had to keep us penned as we waited for the train at the end of the day.

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The torch relay was a staggering success. We had it in north Devon early on. the crowds were phenomenal. All to see sight of someone they didn’t know, often from outside the area and for only a minute or so.

Seeing a chap in Braunton struggle out of his wheelchair to carry the torch a few steps brought a lump to many a throat.

And, we cheered, every step of the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

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We cheered too in the stadium with fans from around the world. We cheered every athlete. Yes, bigger cheers for Brits, but big cheers for the Americans, Jamaicans and Russians.

Buildings

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I used to live next door to the Olympic park, in the flats that housed the surface to air missiles. As the sculpture in the park says, it used to be the site of the largest refrigerator mountain in Europe. It was gritty. In estate agent speak it was not even “up and coming”.

Yes, businesses and a small community were forceably moved out of the site. That’s sad in a mature democracy.

I have no answer to that. Except to say that what has been built in Stratford is a collection of stunning sports venues. The stadium iteslf is beautifully simple: functional, but not oppressive with fantastic sightlines.

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I love the “Pringle” and we were so disappointed not to get cycling tickets. I hope that the building gets used every day of every year until memories of 2012 are dim and distant. I hope too that Herne Hill velodrome keeps its place in South London and produces another Bradley Wiggins.

Logistics

St Pancras to Stratford in 10 minutes. Wow!

When it became apparent that CrossRail would not be ready for 2012, there were many like me who thought that was another nail in the transport coffin. From our one day experience it’s hard to make a judgement. I’m sure if I was still living in London I would have grumbled about station closures, Olympic lanes and crowds.

On the day, everything worked. And, worked well. We were left thinking that London had never worked so well.

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That said, I am still not convinced that the ticketing succeeded. There was a whole bank of empty seats at the stadium on our day. There continued to be swathes of spectator-less plastic across most venues.

Sport

We were disappointed that we didn’t see a British success on our day in the park. But, the cheers echoed around the park as Britain took bronze in the women’s hockey.

So much sport and, at home, we loved every minute. Even the weightlifting, archery, handball and water polo. Red button coverage without commentary: nirvana!

We also cried as Mo Farah won his second gold.

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But, in the park, we saw the US women’s 4×100 team break the world record. We saw a thrilling pole vault competition. We witnessed the Bahamas first ever gold medal.

Money

My £700 odd pales into insignificance against the £9 billion or whatever the figure is. As I’ve said before, sporting events, stadia and the like generate minor additional economic activity over short periods. Justifying the cost in economic terms is a pointless exercise.

The sponsors didn’t quite kill the Olympic spirit. Their presence in the park and in the media has been irritating, but I’m sure I’ll forget who they are fairly soon. (I’ve already mistakenly identified the official logistics partner.)

There is certainly no way can I justify what I spent other than the fact that it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my 54 years.

I purposely avoided using the L-word as one of my five aspects. There is no escaping that legacy was the cornerstone of the bid. And, it will probably return as a point of argument in years to come such as when the stadium is half demolished or Newham locals complain about the lack of jobs or services.

From my perspective now, I can see legacy.

There is, hopefully and with a political will, a sporting legacy. Heck, I’m thinking of taking up archery! If Twitter is anything to go by, no one wants the football season to start because footballers are greedy cheats. Er, football is an Olympic sport; the women’s tournament was fantastic and threw up great British role models.

There is additional infrastructure in place (with CrossRail to come) that improves London.

East London has had an economic boost: with continued investment that could continue (but that’s a big austerity-driven political question).

That leaves the effect on us. I think as a nation we’ve surprised ourselves. Everyone seemed happy for two weeks. We found out we could pull off a huge project. We realised that we’re pretty good at sports across the Olympic range.

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We did it!

I’m now thinking ahead to Glasgow 2014…and volunteering…


I can haz strawberries

8 July 2012
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Fruity

My old strawberry planter has been useless in umpteen years of use. I never seem to get decent fruits. It seems to be a combination of lack of decent sun, over/under watering and little critters.

Last year, my little raised bed was home for old plants, producing a kilo or so of edible fruits, whilst my £20 of new plants did bugger all in the planter.

The raised bed got overrun so I transplanted some runners in a new bed up at the allotment. Up, away from easy maintenance, the bed has become weed infested, slug ridden. Despite those impediments, there’s been a couple of good batches to go with yoghurt or creme fraiche.

Yum.


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