Saturday, 26 November 2016

Allotment update - supplemental...

Okay so if you read my post on pumpkins you may have seen me mention about waiting to hear about another (full sized) plot, well shortly after that we were given the larger plot we applied for, we will for next year anyway keep our smaller plot on as well as the new bigger plot, but at the end of next year we'll give up the smaller plot and just work the larger one.

So today I decided to make a start on getting it ready, there's lots to do, fences need fixing (most of which I've now done) I need to make a new gate and I have also at some point got to move all the stuff from the small plot to the large plot, like the shed and such like (that'll be fun) but for today it was just clearing and seeing what's what.

The plot -

Lots of weeds.
You may well be wondering why I took the picture through this mesh, well you see the plot was locked with a big chain and padlock, so the first job was to actually get into it.

You shall not pass - 

Okay, I see the problem.

I had to cut through part of the gate to get it open, it doesn't matter as I'll be making another gate.

I'm in - 

Doesn't look any better from here.

This plot does come with some bonuses, the first being two large grape vines, one is huge and runs along the entire front of the plot, so I decided to tackle that first.

It's all in here somewhere - 

Nettles everywhere.

And after an hour or so of getting stung all over the place things were looking better - 

Much improved.

You can see the vine running along the top if the fence, I pruned this back and pulled up the nettles and other assorted weeds, it seems there's a compost bin here as well, although this will be taken out.

I plan to put the shed and a new compost bin along this fence, the area in the corner is quite shady so not so great for growing things, this will be where the shed goes, I did also have to repair some holes in this fence, and I've got to sort out a new gate posts as the ones already in are a bit wobbly.

The other grape vine pruned - 

Bit hard to see.

After thinking about it for a while I think I shall move this grape vine to a better location, it's kind of in an awkward place here, so it'll be moved closer to the other vine, near to where the shed will go.

Along with a fork and a shovel I also found some metal cages, a few people on the site use these for covering plants to stop the birds eating them, so I'll be able to use them as pigeon proofing.

Metal cages - 

These will come in handy.

I found some wood from an old apple tree, this has now been added to my wood turning supplies, they aren't thick pieces, but they'll do for making shawl pins and similar things.

In the past this particular plot had been vandalised, and the apple tree was cut down by the vandals so I'm putting the wood to good use, although I'm not sure why they chose to cut down that apple and leave the other two but there you go.

Turning supplies - 
I'm sure I can make use of this.

As well as the grape vines and the two apple trees there are also some currant bushes, in a bit of a poor state but at least one will survive once it's tidied up and there are at least two gooseberry bushes, again these need some tlc, but should be okay and there's some rhubarb plants (at least one, maybe more) and from what I can tell there are a few saplings around the plot, these may turn out to be fruit trees, they look like apples but I'll have to see.

And even though the one apple tree was cut down it's not dead, it's showing signs of new growth so I maybe able to get it to grow, but it'll be some time before it bears fruit, if at all.

Life finds a way - 

Can't keep a good tree down.

Well that was enough for one day, I spent longer there than I meant to, but I got a lot done, there's still lots to do in order to get the plot in a usable state before spring, more fixing of things and working out where things will go and then there's the digging, the whole plot needs digging over, I think there might even be  a few rows of spuds still in the ground although they may not be usable, but you never know.

Here's what the plot looked like when I left - 

I shall be having a large bonfire soon.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for updates, I suspect this will keep me busy throughout the winter months.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Antique style clothes airer / horse...

It's the time of year when putting the washing out on the washing line isn't really practical, it'll probably end up wetter than when you started, so how about making a clothes horse / airer, which if I'm honest is something I've been meaning to do for ages.

Yes we could have bought one, but we don't really like the wire ones and the wooden ones you can buy more often than not can be made quite cheaply and then there's the look of the thing, the modern ones don't really fit with most of the stuff we have in our house, so we made an old looking one.

Here it is -

Really simple and cheap to make.
It's made from 19mm x 38mm batten which you can buy in packs of eight from some diy shops the pack we bought cost £12.10, which makes each 2.4 metre length around £1.51 each and we used six lengths, so the wood for this cost about £9, I did also buy some upholstery tacks for £1 (because I forgot I already had some) so the whole thing cost £10 which isn't bad.

Making it is easy, basically you need four long pieces for the legs and then (in our case) six pieces to make the bars, and what you're aiming for is something that looks a bit like a ladder.

Here's a small diagram with some measurements - 

Click for a larger image.

I made the uprights 52 inches (132cm) and the bars 24 inches (60cm) which makes the whole thing  just over four feet high and four feet wide, this was because when we have the heating on the horse will pretty much cover one of our larger radiators.

The spacing for the bars was worked out roughly, I measured from the top down 4 inches  (10cm) for the top bar and from the bottom up 12 inches (30cm) for the bottom bar, and then just divided the distance between the top and bottom bars for the middle bar.

The reason for leaving a little bit above the top bar is to stop washing sliding off the top bar when the horse is moved.

I used a mitre saw to cut the wood, and my daughter helped, this is a really simple build, no fancy joints or anything like that, the wood was just screwed and glued together.

Work commences - 

Time for some measuring.

After a bit of cutting we have what we need, on to fixing - 

Now for some screws and glue.

After marking out where the bars were going to go the next step was to find the centres where we needed to drill for the screws, I used a home made centre marker (you can find loads of different ones online) it's basically a bit of wood with two pegs either end and a pencil in the middle.

Once marked out I used a screw digger to make the holes, screw diggers are basically a drill bit with a built in counter sink, it saves time not having to switch between drill bit and counter sink, I tend to use one that gives me an 8mm counter sink so that I can cover the screws with wooden plugs.

Screws in - 

The holes will be filled.

First section built - 

Rinse and repeat.

Both sections done - 

Now on to the decoration.

First thing to do now it's all fixed together is to fill the screw holes, I haven't made the plugs fit flush, instead I've left them a little proud as this gives the whole thing a more arts and crafts type look. The plugs are just 1cm lengths of 8mm dowel (hence the use of the 8mm screw digger) and after rounding off one end I glued them into the screw holes.

Plugs cut - 

Pine plugs, fiddly but worth the effort.

Plugs glued in place - 

Just a small detail, but it works with the overall look of the thing.

Once the screw holes were covered I sanded (with the help of my daughter) the two frames and rounded off the ends, after that it was on to making it look a little less brand new.

I use a homemade stain to make the wood look a bit more aged, it's basically white vinegar with some wire wool in it, which after being left a while gives the wood a slightly orange appearance and when a dark wax (Black Bison Dark Oak) is applied it gives the finished look more depth, at least I find it does.

One section stained, onto the next - 

White vinegar makes a cheap wood stain.

Once the stain has dried I then applied a coat of dark oak coloured wax, and after that I polished the two sections with a natural beeswax polish, and then it was on to the hinges which are made of leather believe it or not, although metal hinges would do just as well.

I did do some research into vintage and antique clothes horses and found that most of them had some kind of material to act as a hinge, from canvas to leather, and seeing as we have some leather scraps I went for leather, which is just tacked onto each section with upholstery tacks.

Like so, it works and helps to make it look older - 

It's fixed in a kin of 'S' shape.

It looks a bit too new in this picture, but as the leather ages it'll look better, it's a simple way of allowing you to open and close the clothes horse and it stops it falling over, I did also add a small brass catch I had lying about to keep the frame closed when not it use, but a loop of string over the top would do just as well.

Small catch - 

Stops it from flapping about when you move it.

We have been using it quite a lot recently and it's doing what it should, so far we've kept it in our utility room, which as well as a small radiator also houses the boiler which creates a fair bit of heat and clothes seem to be drying quite quickly where it is, and it's right by the back door should the sun make an appearance.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The humble pumpkin...

Whilst I sit twiddling my thumbs waiting to hear about a larger allotment plot I thought I'd write a post about pumpkins, perhaps not the most exciting of vegetables but hey ho.

This year was a good year for pumpkins, we grew the largest two we've ever managed on our allotment and oddly we weren't even trying, happy accidents you might say.

Here are the largest two of this years pumpkins -

We were pleased with them.
I had thought we weren't going to get any large pumpkins this year, we lost a load of plants to marauding slugs and had to sow more, and as a result by the time some of our other pumpkin plants were growing fruit we had some plants that were showing no signs of doing anything productive at all.

And then around the middle of August I noticed these two small pumpkins, on separate plants - 

Small, about grapefruit/melon size here.

At this point I thought, well it's late in the season so they probably won't come to much, but I'll leave them anyway, by the end of August start of September they had grown a fair bit, the one by the fence had grown quite a lot, it went from being grapefruit sized to watermelon sized in a couple of weeks and the other one was about the same size.

Fence pumpkin - 

Larger than it looks.

The other one - 

Again larger than it looks.

A month later when I picked them they had gotten considerably larger, I haven't done anything special with them, just plenty of water and sunshine (you can also use tomato food on them) and that's it, and in the space of about six weeks they went from grapefruit/melon sized to weighing 25.5kg between the two of them, the largest is 13.5kg and the smaller one 12kg, they can grow very quickly if they get plenty of sun and water.

Harvest time, I had to use my bike trailer - 

A good haul.

Currently we have a kitchen full of pumpkins (and other squash) they will all get used, we've started processing some of them already, the one we carved for Halloween has been made into puree and frozen for soups and pies (and anything else we can think of) a couple have been turned into relish made by my wife some of the puree was used in the flat breads my wife makes as well, and we roasted the seeds with some olive oil and spices, they make a great snack.

Pumpkins are very useful, did you know that around 18,000 tonnes of pumpkin gets thrown away each year in the UK after Halloween ? and why ? they can be eaten so why throw it away ?

The internet is awash with recipes and ideas for what to do with pumpkins and squashes.

Here's a list of things we do with pumpkins, 

Puree for soup
Cut up in stews, and curries
Pumpkin pie
Roasted with the spuds for Sunday dinner
Pumpkin flat breads
Pumpkin relish
Pumpkin wine, which is very nice even if I do say so myself
Grated into a shepherds pie or a chilli, makes the mince go further
Pumpkin muffins (kids love them, probably because they are sweet)
Seeds roasted for a nice healthy snack

And pumpkins have numerous health benefits and they are very high in vitamins and minerals, like vitamin C, vitamin A and calcium and iron and they are a fun to grow, kids get a kick out of watching them get bigger.

So rather than chucking your pumpkins in the bin after Halloween why not try to use them, after all you are throwing food away, and if you don't want to use them see if anyone in your area is running a pumpkin/squash rescue event where you can donate your pumpkins and know they'll be used to help someone who is perhaps a little less fortunate than you, it has to be better than chucking them away.

In the mean time we'll be finding uses for this lot - 

This isn't all of them.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Halloween tree...

We like Halloween, who doesn't ? and as we try and make various things for Halloween one of the simplest we've made is our Halloween tree, which to be honest has been an evolutionary thing, I guess that's the good thing about making things yourself, you can add and change things as you see fit.

Here's one of our Halloween trees from some (four) years ago -

Pretty simple really.

As you can see we basically put some twisty willow twigs into a glass vase, and then added some pumpkin lights and other stuff, it's simple and works and it's easy to pack away and use next year, but it hasn't stayed like this.

A couple of years later and the twigs got an upgrade, this time some gnarly pear twigs - 

Now with added bats.

Again it's some twigs in a vase, a black one this time because Halloween, this one has a few more decorations on it, some bought and some homemade, like the pumpkin sun catchers my wife made.

So this years upgrade is a little more extensive, we've done away with the twigs in a vase and given it a proper base in the form of a chunk of cypress wood, I hollowed it out so that the ends of the twigs would fit into the wood.

And as the wooden base had a door like look to it I made a proper door from a scrap bit of wood and burned the number 13 onto it because Halloween, so now it looks almost like it's someones home, maybe a witch with her cat, who knows but this is a really simple way to make your own Halloween tree, all you need is a chunk of wood and some twigs.

New base and door - 

She might have to duck to get through that.

And here's how this years Halloween tree looks - 

The lights are solar powered.

It's an improvement on a vase I guess, the lights are usb ones we modified and they run off a small solar powered battery pack.

Thanks for reading and happy Halloween.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

End of year allotment update...

So another year almost over, things seem to be going by so quickly now, it feels like yesterday that we were getting the plot ready for this year, and now I've already started getting it ready for next year.

Here's where the plot was at towards the end of July -

Things are coming along.
As usual some weeding was needed, but not too much, the squash plants we put in late were growing well, along with other stuff, so in July we harvested what we could, spuds, beans (french and broad beans) strawberries, rhubarb and other things and also by this time we were starting to get some courgettes as well.

The spoils of war (with the weeds) - 

All very tasty.

And that was July, on wards to August.

As the plot was pretty much okay we decided to make a few changes to things, firstly the area we call the compost bin needed sorting out, I had patched it up a few years ago but the wood was starting to fail.

So using the old metal panels I had left over from the shed we put on the plot a couple of years ago and some old steel poles form the kids old climbing frame (which had been in the loft for the best part of ten years) I set about making a new compost area.

Not much to it really, I've made it so one part can be removed so we can get at the compost with out having to climb all over it, but other than that it was just a case of replacing wood with metal, which should last a bit longer.

Compost bin done, what next ? - 

Much neater.

Ah yes, now as our plot is a half plot and due to the way it was divided it has caused some confusion as to where our plot ends and the other half begins, so to that end we started making the divide a lot clearer, in the hope that this will make things easier to tell what plot belongs to who when it comes to inspections, for reason I won't go into here.

All we did was use some bamboo canes to make the divide that was already there a lot more obvious, this we hope will make life easier.

Not much of a fence, but it is clearer now where each plot is - 

That should do it (famous last words)

All done, our plot is the plot to the left of this fence if you will, the bit without the large pile of wood on it, so what else needs doing ?

Well we did have some plants (kale etc) in the greenhouse at home that needed planting out, so we did that, and we put a wire mesh frame over them to stop the butterflies getting in, we have two of these frames now with various things growing in them and fingers crossed I can use the to stop next years Pak choi from being eaten by the pigeons.

All protected - 

Will work for butterflies, now just need to stop the slugs.

More things were harvested - 

It was a good year for courgettes.

Towards the end of August we were beginning to wonder about pumpkins, we had a couple of the Jacko lantern type, which looked like they might be a good size but apart from those none of the other pumpkins were showing any signs of fruiting.

Jacko lantern pumpkins (bought the seeds from Wilkinsons) - 

Nearly ready for picking.

Now this may sound a bit odd, given how fast these plants can grow perhaps not, you see even though I had been watering the plot every few days because of the hot weather I hadn't noticed two small pumpkins growing, maybe I thought that given the lateness of the year they wouldn't amount to much, I was wrong, but more about them later.

Here they are, still quite small - 

Two separate pumpkins on separate plants.

Anyway on to September, not much going on really, picking a few things on the days when I went to water, courgettes mainly, it's a good job my wife makes a great relish out of them (opens in new window) and despite it being September I was already planning for next year.

More pumpkins and squashes - 

Some of these were quite large.

I put in some onions, some were shop bought ones and some were the very smallest ones left over from this years crop and I've put in some garlic and shallots, the shallots were, like the onions the smaller ones we had left over, the garlic is just from shop bought garlic.

I've also decided to experiment with green manure this year as well, the soil at the top end of the plot needs improving and I figured this might be a good way to do it, so I sowed a patch of green manure with the view to growing next years pumpkins and squashes there.

Onions (snowball is the variety) for next year - 

Not much to look at yet.
Shallots and garlic in - 

Not much here either.
Green manure (Mr Fothergill's Autumn/Winter mix) patch sown - 

Again not much to look at.

Two weeks later and the green manure was showing signs of life - 

Won't be long before I cut it back.

The idea with green manure is you sow it and then either dig it in and then after a couple of weeks you can grow what you want in the space, the plants in green manure are picked because they add nutrients to the soil, some types you sow and then dig in after a few weeks, the type I'm using is one that you can sow and cut back and then nearer to when you want to use the soil you would then dig it in.

And as long as you don't let the plants set seed you can in theory keep allowing it to grow and cut it back throughout the winter months and then in spring dig it all over and after a couple of weeks you should then have nice improved soil, at least that's the theory, whether it works like that in practise, well we'll see.

It does grow fast (this was a month later at the start October) - 

Where did I put those shears?
And so we get to October, so far this month I have harvested the last pumpkins and squashes, the carrots and started sorting things out for next year, I've sown another patch of green manure and also sown two lots of broadbeans to over winter, and around March time I will sow another lot of broadbeans along with what ever we decide to grow next year, more of the same I think.

Here was the plot at the start of this visit - 

Some tidying is needed.

The first job for this visit was to cut back the green manure - 

It took about five minutes with some shears.

And after a few hours this is what the plot looked like, ready for winter almost - 

Unlike like cutting back the green manure this took four hours.

Some now we have things sorted, I will pay a few visits to the plot over winter as there are still things growing and things to be harvested and no doubt weeds to be pulled, but all in all it's been a good year for us anyway.

Just before I go you may remember the two pumpkins I mentioned earlier in this post, well as it turns out they grew quickly and they grew quickly enough to be the largest pumpkins I've ever managed to grow, between them they weigh about 25.5kg one weighs in at 13.3kg and the other 12.2kg so even though they were late I was wrong to think they wouldn't amount to much and as is usually the case mother nature has proved me wrong once again.

I have since decided that because I am quite proud of them they should be entered into the competition our council has for squashes grown on allotment plots, they may not win anything, but you never know.

Pumpkins !!! - 

Pumpkins !!!

Thanks for reading.