Cooking Home Outdoors

Platinum Jubilee weekend

The Queen has been on the throne for 70 years, the longest reigning European monarch, and a unique situation, unlikely to be repeated. She became Queen in February 1952 when her father died (and she was on an African safari). Her coronation was on June 2nd 1953. She celebrates her ‘official’ birthday on June 2nd although her birthday is April 21st and she was 96 this year, 2022.

This year bank holidays were rearranged (late May bank holiday moved to Thursday 2nd and an extra day added on Friday 3rd) to give a 4 day weekend from 2nd to the 5th of June.  Over these days there were large national events organised in London that were televised. Also many communities had street parties and other gatherings. Many of our neighbours were away seeing friends and family or taking advantage of the long weekend to go on holiday so there was nothing laid on here, although our bunting gave a celebratory feel to things.

The bunting goes up at the back of the house………….

And here it is in the front.

Although Trooping the Colour (the Queen’s Birthday Parade) is an annual event, this year was the first time we watched it on television. It was spectacular, with the Prince of Wales (Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall) in the lead followed by the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) and the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) riding behind all in full military dress, looking very splendid. The Queen was absent for the parade. There was a procession of carriages for other members of the Royal family, with the Duchesses of Cornwall and Cambridge together with Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. The children were facing backwards (good thing they didn’t suffer from motion sickness!) and were given a lot of press coverage as it was one of their first royal occasions.

At the end of the morning we saw the Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace first with her cousin, 86 year old Duke of Kent, and then with the ‘working members’ of the royal family. They watched a terrific fly past including not only the Red Arrows but also 15 Typhoons making a 70 formation.

In the evening beacons were lit throughout the country at dusk, 9.45pm.

I cycled to Castle Hill to see the Cambridge beacon being lit. There was a piper playing before and while it was burning. Patrick watched the TV coverage which included beacon lighting on Unst (Shetland) with ‘Vikings’ who threw their burning brands into the fire.

On Friday June 3rd there was a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral attended by thousands of key workers as well as celebrities and a large number of royals. Again, the Prince of Wales stood in for the Queen who was reported as having experienced ‘some discomfort’ (tired maybe) after her busy ‘official birthday’ the day before. There were many superb aspects to the service from the building itself and the music to the religious ceremonial and the Archbishop of York’s sermon. He stood in for the Archbishop of Canterbury who had a combination of covid and pneumonia (not a good mix of illnesses).

The media made a great drama of the attendance of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and his wife Megan. It was great to see them there – crossing the Atlantic with two very young children is no joke what with jet lag etc, for a short visit to London.

In the afternoon I decorated a jubilee cake. It was a Mary Berry recipe with a rich sponge (including less flour, more ground almonds and several eggs) topped by butter icing and fruit.

We started it for pudding when we had supper in the garden.

Jim came round and we kicked off with pink prosecco.

Saturday 4th was ‘normal’ if having the roof of the bike/’cow’ shed totally replaced can be counted as that. At the end of the day I took a load of rotten timbers to the tip – much improved by the help I was given by the people who work there.

In the evening we watched the concert that took place outside Buckingham Palace. It started with a brilliant film ‘when Paddington Bear came to tea with the Queen’ and they tapped the rhythm on their teacups of ‘We will rock you’ as the first song started. The music was not my style although it was chosen to appeal to a wide range of the population and included old pop songs as well as new. The best part of the evening show was the high tech ‘lumière’, projected onto and above Buckingham Palace and on several occasions accompanied by videos. Both Prince William and Prince Charles made speeches, focussing on the environment and a positive future, and thanks to the Queen, respectively.

On the afternoon of Sunday June 5th there was a Jubilee pageant following a 3km route starting at Whitehall and leading up the Mall and round the Queen Victoria monument in front of Buckingham Palace and on to St James’s Park. It was made up of four parts, military marching, horses and bands first, then a trip through the decades since 1952, followed by street theatre and dance and ending with a tribute to the monarch. There was a huge variety of acts with many celebrities involved (Dames in Jags was one – with Dame Pru Leith’s jag breaking down and needing a push!). 

By the end of Saturday the jubilee cake had been eaten and I made a traditional Victoria sponge which we had on Sunday.

At the end of the pageant there was another balcony appearance when the ‘family succession’ joined the Queen. I took a photo from the television.

True to form the weekend was not completely dry, it rained on Sunday, and it was so cold that I lit the wood burner (in June!!).

On Monday morning the first thing to do was take down the bunting. It was very wet so I hung it up in the top bedroom to dry.

We’ve now put away the bunting, and are looking forward to our own street party for the local community at midsummer.

Leisure Outdoors

An October cycle ride from north Cambridge to Coton and back via the city centre

Over the years I have gone for several cycle rides with my friend Nancy. These have mainly been in the summer and early autumn, based on our enthusiasm to get out when the weather is good and when we are not too busy with other things. In theory we arrange to meet for a cycle ride three or four times each year but in fact it usually turns out to be a maximum of two, accompanied by comments such as ‘where has the summer gone’, ‘can we fit in a ride before the weather turns’ etc.

Luckily cycle rides were not affected by covid as they were definitely in the ‘allowed exercise’ category. I see from my ever increasing collection of undeleted emails that we cycled to the south of the city on 30th September 2020 but have found nothing earlier that year. In the summer of 2019 we cycled to villages north of the city, a conveniently close area as both of us live in north Cambridge. It was this area that we also cycled to in early August this year, the first of our two rides in 2021. The route was to Histon via the guided busway then to Girton through some lovely, locally managed woodland, a stop at Girton church where I bought some jam, and back via a track from the new development at Darwin Green to Histon Road.

Our most recent cycle ride, on 4th October, was to Coton, a village to the west of Cambridge. It has been joined to Cambridge for decades via the ‘Coton footpath’ that runs westwards to the village from the intersection of Adams Road and Wilberforce Road. When the M11 was constructed in the early 1980s it crossed the route of the footpath so a bridge was built. As continuing development took place in west Cambridge and more and more university departments moved out of the centre, the footpath became an increasingly useful link, so much so that part of it was widened with designated separate cycle and pedestrian paths.  

Our cycle route started at Nancy’s house. Our route is shown by hand written black arrows. We went north on Histon Road then joined the track that took us to Darwin Green. We crossed Huntingdon Road and took a cycle path through Eddington, another new development, this time mainly residential, on the original site of the University Farm between Huntingdon and Madingley Roads. After crossing the Madingley Road we cycled through the west Cambridge site to reach the Coton footpath.

Before setting off there is a fair amount of preparation from pumping tyres to checking the route. The photos below demonstrate this, Nancy’s map followed by a picture of her in the garden before putting on her helmet.

We set off at a reasonable pace negotiating various hazards including ongoing work on the new cycle path along Histon Road. Where the path was blocked by machinery it was the usual situation – dodge out into the stream of cars!! For ages I have found the principles behind separating cycles from mainstream traffic intriguing – at many traffic lights and all but one ‘Dutch’ roundabout in Cambridge, the cycle lanes stop altogether which makes me think cyclists need to take to the skies like Mary Poppins (or risk life and limb joining cars, buses and lorries as they whizz through intersections and round roundabouts).

Once we were on the track to Darwin Green, accessed via a short stretch of footpath, all was well – lovely clear skies, a light wind and views of ‘about to be developed’ farmland. The light wind sounds delightful but it was blowing towards us so, as always, it had a surprising effect on the effort needed to cycle. The story goes that whichever direction you are cycling, it is always against the wind – or at least that’s what it feels like. Another factor that should have no effect at all in Cambridgeshire is gradient. We have almost no hills so perfect for cycling, but even a gentle slope makes a difference.

When we reached Eddington we bowled through it with barely a glance I am ashamed to say because it is a fascinating new development. In fairness Nancy and I have been there many times before and have seen the lovely wild flower areas, the sustainable housing and the award winning community centre, Storeys Field Centre ( Eddington is well worth a visit, via its website ( if it is not possible to go there in real life.

From Eddington we crossed the Madingley Road and, at my suggestion, cycled through the West Cambridge site, rather than taking a rural path along the east side of the M11. We had cycled that footpath a few years ago and so a new route seemed a good idea.

The photo below is of the point where we turned south to access the Coton footpath.

We found ourselves cycling for a short distance through an area that is clearly next in line for new buildings, with access roads leading nowhere and some areas of rough ground. Our route led straight onto the footpath, which at that point is single track alongside autumn fields (some recently tilled and others showing signs of harvested crops). The sun was shining and suddenly we felt we were in an extremely rural area. But this was slightly offset by the throbbing of traffic on the M11 a short distance away.

To cross the motorway we cycled up a steep slope (in fact I chickened out and pushed my bike!). This next photo shows the slope up to the bridge – this side has not been resurfaced.

Then across the bridge and down the other side (freewheeling on a smooth track that is much improved since the last time I cycled there when the surface was potholed and quite dangerous).

It seemed a good idea to take a photo of us in front of a Coton sign, to prove that we had reached our destination. The first one we saw led to Coton Country Reserve, managed by Cambridge Past, Present and Future. The sign was fairly low compared with us when standing – you can see the top of the gate behind us – so we had to shrink down for the photo! Coton Country Park is definitely well worth visiting but on this occasion we decided against and went on to the church.

Although Coton has many attractions for the 21st century including a very good pub and an excellent garden centre, for me the area round the church is the biggest attraction. Here are the traditional features that you would have seen for centuries including a village pond, the village green with an old pump and the primary school.  We were able to go into the church itself which was a bonus, and were fascinated by it and its history from the 12th century.

Leaving Coton we retraced our route along the path towards Cambridge and over the M11. The next two photos show this. I took the first of the two precariously as I cycled along – luckily there was no other traffic and plenty of space to wobble along one-handedly with the phone in the other.

The photo below, from the motorway bridge, gives a deceptive idea of the traffic because of the spacing of vehicles. In fact, despite petrol supply problems, there was a continuous stream in all four lanes.

Our route took us due east along the Coton footpath and away from the village towards the city. We passed many other cyclists and as we approached the eastern end of the footpath there were more pedestrians. On the left side of the path we could see the modern buildings of the West Cambridge site, but when we reached the end, and set off down Adams Road we were in an area of huge older properties most of which are now split into flats.

We crossed Grange Road and cycled down Burrell’s Walk past the university library (photo below) on our right.

Then across Queens Road to Garrett Hostel Lane and up and over Garrett Hostel Bridge, which was full of undergraduates in their gowns taking photos. The picture below is to the north, showing Trinity Bridge beyond the punt.

We cycled down Trinity Lane – a lovely narrow old area of the city and pushed our bikes down Trinity Street (it is one-way, the other way) towards Round Church Street.

The next photo was taken outside Trinity College looking towards St John’s College.

From Round Church Street we crossed Jesus Green to Victoria Avenue, onto Midsummer Common and along the river with the college boathouses on the other (north-east) bank.

We finished by crossing the river via the footbridge that leads to Manhattan Drive, through the ‘de Freville estate’ to Chesterton Road, and on to Milton Road, arriving at my house for a late coffee.

Leisure Outdoors

Mainly Yellow Flowers, on Shetland in July

We normally try to visit Shetland in the summer. The islands extend about 70 miles from north to south and lie either side of latitude 60 degrees north. Days are very long in summer and on the whole the weather is kind, although summer fog and misty drizzle are common.

In the past we have visited in May and June and have seen sheets of bluebells, followed by fuchsia and montbretia which thrive. In gardens hostas are huge and completely free from slug and snail attack. So there is plenty to enthuse about for us Cambridgeshire gardeners, used to fairly dry conditions and hungry pests. This year we visited in July and discovered that it is a superb month for wildflowers.

The quantity and variety was huge and yellow flowers were particularly impressive.

The photo below is a typical roadside view. As we drove from place to place this is what we saw either side of us. On this occasion we were walking down the road (in an east-north-east direction) towards Levenwick Beach. You can see the cluster of houses in the distance that were once the homes of a fishing community. On the right is the typical profile of many of the cliffs on the east side of Shetland’s South Mainland.

Here we have buttercup and monkey flower.

And this next photo is of monkey flower, in its preferred watery habitat. The actual flowers are substantial and on many occasions the plants were growing profusely along small steams and ditches. It was possible to use the abundant yellow flowers to track the water courses.

We visited a lovely exhibition, ‘Bigton and Birds’, in Bigton Hall. It included poetry, paintings, music and film, all created locally and organised by Bigton Collective ( We were delighted to have the opportunity to visit and enjoyed it so much that we went two days running. The exhibition was brilliantly curated, including vases of wild flowers. Here are two photos of one of them – more yellow monkey flower in the centre of the vase and buttercups trailing in the second picture.

The next four photos show:


Yellow flag (yellow iris)

Meadow buttercup

Meadow vetchling

If possible we visit parts of Shetland that we have not been to before – and this time we went to Fetlar. This is one of the three north isles and relatively small compared with Yell and Unst. To get there we have to use ferries – which meant careful timetable checks and advance bookings, made online from Cambridge before we set off on our trip.

Fetlar is known for its red necked phalaropes and also for being relatively green (The Garden of Shetland). We set out to see as much as we could of the island and in about 4 hours we managed a wonderful range of activities (short moorland walk, museum visit, RSPB reserve + picnic lunch, church, beach and a restoration project). The photo below shows bog asphodel with tormentil in the foreground which we saw on moorland in the north east of the island.

We saw a lot of tormentil. The next photo shows slender St John’s wort with tormentil nearer the top of the picture.

And below, more tormentil.

There were many other flowers in addition to the profusion of yellow ones. Here is an eye-catching angelica.

And below is a sheet of flowers at Norwick Beach on Unst – tufted vetch and purple clover.

Throughout Shetland we came across a profuse and highly scented light mauve flower, which we identified as dame’s violet. Here it is in the foreground of this photo taken in the garden of the Old Haa, Burravoe, on Yell.

Collecting these photos together brings back the wonderful profusion of flowers that we saw. Next summer maybe the focus will be on blue and purple given the tasters in the last three photos here.

Home Outdoors

Using our coppiced hazel

We have a hazel between the shed and the compost. Normally it is a large bushy plant as it has been coppiced at least twice in its lifetime. This year I coppiced it again.

The rather unusual picture below was taken one summer to show the morning glory climbing the tomato plant!  As you can see it was when the hazel was in full leaf, to the right of the shed.

This is what it looks like now.

Seriously hacked down. But it will recover quite soon.

We have kept the stakes to use as supports. They live propped against the shed.

One of our three compost bins disintegrated so when it came to making a new one I took 4 hazel stakes and some wire netting and here it is.

The idea of recording this only happened after I finished the coppicing and the new compost bin had been built. Normally I like to record every stage of destruction/construction, but not this time!

Leisure Outdoors

The Backs in Spring

In Cambridge there is a line of beautiful college buildings that have their main entrances (facing east) along streets in the centre of the city. At the back of these colleges (on their west sides) are gardens and open spaces that slope gently down to the river Cam. An area, accessible to the public, of grass and trees, criss-crossed with paths, lies to the west of the river separating it from Queens Road which is a north south route from Westminster College to Fen Causeway.

The view across the river Cam from Queens Road is fantastic with beautiful buildings, gardens, fields and meadows. The area is known as The Backs and there are gorgeous spring flowers which is why I visited it by bike a week or so ago.

First I had to get ready, starting with helmet and high vis jacket.

Then the bike, in the shed where I checked the tyres which were well pumped up this time.

The first leg of the journey could be in any town i.e. a residential 1930s street with the usual semi-detached houses and parked cars that you can see below.

However once I reached the river things changed. The photo below is downstream from the centre of Cambridge (north-west of the Backs), with a view towards Jesus Green, and houseboats, bikes propped against a tree and a gorgeous display of daffodils in the foreground.

I cycled on and reached the stream behind St John’s College.

My photographic technique is basic so I was pleased to notice the railings and bike wheel shadow, as I was putting my phone away.

And here are some of the wild flowers, anemones and primroses, growing there.

The next photo is the back of Trinity College with the Wren library through the trees on the left.

And below is a view with Kings College chapel on the skyline.

I cycled a little further on and turned east for a short distance along Garrett Hostel Lane where I took the next two photos, the second one giving a good view of the Wren library in the centre of the picture.

Here is the wrought iron gate into Clare College. Normally this college has a very open attitude to visitors and it is possible to walk through but a combination of current restrictions and construction work meant this was not possible. The flowers are always beautiful in the spring with sheets of crocuses to start with, then daffodils.

Turning through 180 degrees to face Queens Road I noticed the dramatic catkins on this tree. My guess is that it is alder.

The next photo (not brilliantly in focus…) is the famous tourist view of Kings College chapel with Clare College to the left.

Then I arrived at the back gate to Kings. As I was taking the photo I was surprised how many pass holders were going through despite the online arrangements for many of the students at present.  

Next stop was looking across to Darwin College from the back of Queens College.

Then a view from Silver Street Bridge with Queens College on both sides of the river (newer to the left/west, and old to the right/east) and the mathematical bridge visible in the centre.

I cycled home by a different route, through the centre of Cambridge and, as I rode up Silver Street there was St Botolph’s church catching the sun on its stone.

I took the last photo from the foot/cycle path along the side of Jesus Green where a stream (covered in duckweed!) flows past the back of Jesus College.

Home Outdoors

Improving the terrace

In summer and autumn 2020 our gazebo sat on the terrace just outside the conservatory doors and was a great success, astonishingly. But it covered several, admittedly rather poor quality, flower beds, so a month or two ago we decided it was time to plan some improvements to boost the overall quality of the area.

There were plenty of ideas floating around but eventually we decided to turn some of the flower beds into hard standing using bricks. Without the gazebo these will be perfect for pots, that we hope will be burgeoning with blooms from March onwards – fingers and toes crossed!

This is stage one – a quick drawing and list on a piece of scrap paper.

The terrace looked pretty drab in late January as you can see below so we decided to lay bricks over the area where the bench stands. This includes removing the old tree trunk and the ‘pond in a bowl’, and only keeping plants that climb up the fence.

The first stage was clearing the soil and moving the pond.

Then we brought bricks from the allotment that had been used as paths (now replaced by chippings between rows).

And here are some of the bricks in a pile waiting to be used.

The process of laying the bricks looks like this – below. It is tricky to make sure that the surface is aligned with the existing paving and that it is level and relatively smooth.

It doesn’t take too long to build up the area of hard standing.

And brushing in earth between the bricks is astonishingly effective.

The photo below is the other side of the terrace before any improvements were made.

And here it is with the bricks laid and a space for one of the paving slabs that we found at the other end of the garden.

The slabs are propped up waiting for Jim to move them into position – they are too heavy for me to handle.

One slab is in place below – getting the earth totally level and settled before it goes down is half the battle. I stood on it and rocked the corners – some slack so Jim had to lift the slab for me to add more earth underneath.

And in the picture below it is finished.

And the next photo shows the same on the other side of the terrace, where the bricks and new paving slab are level enough for the seat to stand on them without wobbling – a pretty basic requirement but often harder to achieve than you’d expect!  

Below is the same patch after rearrangement of pots etc to make it all look as nice as possible.

On the other side of the terrace there are more pots – which will look lovely when they are in flower and the wintry looking strawberries are producing fruit (we hope).

Last but not least the ‘pond in a bowl’ is looking better in its new location than it ever did in its old position so I am looking forward to an abundance of aquatic creatures sometime.

Crafts Outdoors

Advent Wreath

A few years ago I signed up for a course at a local church on making an advent wreath. It was brilliant. We started from scratch with a bale of straw from which to pull handfuls that we steadily twisted and bound (with wire) into a ring about 30 cms in diameter. The next step is to cover the ring with greenery, using ivy, yew, holly etc as long as it is evergreen and fairly pliable. The idea is to lie the stems in the same direction to give a tidy look.

This process is quite time consuming as the stems have to be secured by sticking the ends into the straw ring and binding them down with wire. The ring must be totally covered so when it sits flat no straw shows.

After 4 weeks or more the greenery can become rather dry and dull but regular spraying with water helps to keep it refreshed. When the festive season is over the advent wreath has to be dismembered and the reusable ring, decorations and wires put away for next year.

So that is where I started this year.

In the photo above you can see the straw ring, spare wire, red ribbons and 4 new white candles. The strong wires in the base of each candle are from the original candles that came with the wreath making course. I use the wires most years, pulling them out of the old candles, heating the ends over the gas cooker and forcing them into the new candles. Sometimes this has been tricky to do, depending on the nature of the candle wax, so in 2019 I bought a set of spiked candle holders that I used instead, as can be seen in the final photo in this blog.

I chose a fairly dry day to cut greenery from the garden – we have far too much holly and ivy!

The evergreen below was bought as a tiny plant over 30 years ago. We keep it well chopped and it is excellent as the first layer on the straw ring. Each short stem curves easily over the ring. After two or three circuits, tied down with wire, the ring is covered.

Below the greenery is piled up on the floor.

Unfortunately I was so carried away with covering the ring with evergreens that I forgot to take any photos.

The course leader all those years ago was very keen that we should divide the ring into four – 4 advent candles and between them red ribbons. Last year I tied the ribbons below each candle and added decorations between.

I decided this year to put a Christmas Day candle in the middle so, for the first time there are five candles. Thinking about it, the central candle should be taller than the four advent candles so I may stand its holder on a small block of wood.

This photo below is the 2019 advent wreath with all candles burning. So that means I took the photo on the fourth Sunday in Advent.

The candles are different heights because the one that is lit first (on Advent Sunday) is lit again on each of the successive Sundays. The same applies to each candle in turn and the tallest is the candle that was lit for the first time on the fourth Sunday in Advent.

Leisure Outdoors

Autumn Fun

Summer extends into October and the garden gets a second flush of flowers.

The new grass seed germinates.

Rain helps.

The clocks change – lovely light mornings, and ‘cosy down indoors’ evenings

The gazebo has a battering in wind and rain so on a dry day, down it comes to sprawl in the conservatory as it totally dries out. The garden takes a good deep breath and the light levels indoors rise without the huge green barrage balloon sitting just outside. Plans for more hard standing, new pots etc – exciting winter projects.

From the end of September chrysanths have been flowering on the allotment and during October more and more come into flower there. Patrick’s chrysanths in the garden start to flower – beautiful large blooms in the most splendid colours. So we have plenty to pick. They last for at least two weeks indoors – brilliant.

Here are other activities – piles of books, ready for the next book group and borrowed from friends, a cabinet full of music, games on the left and a rug to keep warm on the right.

And the next picture shows a visor and masks, bottom right – typical of pandemic times.


Pumpkins, real and emoji; will there be trickers and treaters? Probably not and anyway we don’t want to encourage them this year (helping yourself to a sweet or two out of a large tin might be a good way to spread germs….). Highlights – a glittery spider’s web card from 2 great nephews, lovely pumpkin soup for lunch, and the ugliest jack o’ lantern ever.

Leisure Outdoors

Allotment Life

Having an allotment is a lovely way to get away from normal busy home-based activities. Of course it includes a lot of physical work. Even pickling fruit and harvesting vegetables involves bending and stretching, while digging and weeding (often both together) are more strenuous. So we have regarded the allotment as a way to tick the government’s exercise box during ‘covid summer’! However it isn’t all hard slog and the photos below are meant to highlight some of the more pleasant and less muddy aspects.

Allotment holders are often on their plot for a bit of peace and quiet, so long conversations are not always the norm. However over the years we have talked quite a lot to the people with allotments near us. We also talk with friends who have allotments in other parts of Cambridge, sharing ideas, comparing notes about water supply, how things are growing etc.

A friend with two allotments on a different site from ours gave us wildflower seeds that he had bought in Germany. We set aside a fairly unproductive patch as it would be ideal for wild flowers (relatively infertile with no grass to compete with the flowers). Here they are in mid-June. I am writing this in September and there is a second flowering for some of the species.

Below are typical summer crops. The potatoes are mainly pink fir apples, with a few charlottes that escaped the first digging. Weather during peak potato growing time was far from ideal – dry and warm to start with, a late frost, very high temperatures later in the summer and hardly any rain – so we were pleased with what we found. We grew several varieties of French bean and for the first time we have had a successful tomato crop (ie no blight). Behind our shed is a cultivated blackberry that has produced fruit for weeks. We grow mainly autumn raspberries and they have done quite well although they were set back when temperatures topped 30C. However the crop has carried on and there are promising signs for more fruit as we move through September into October. Sweet corn and parsley have been feeble – not enough rain is my guess.

The next picture is of one part of the site where we have successfully grown bronze fennel, more ornamental than anything else. We also had a small patch for peas (under the netting – now cleared and replaced by a sowing of chard) and successional sowings of beans that were still producing in September. In the foreground are new patty pan plants. The first plants are on a different part of the allotment and never properly got going. It seemed a good plan to try a second planting – but maybe shorter days and lower temperatures will conspire against us. The plants are much bigger, a month on from when the photo was taken in August, with plenty of growth and we have already harvested some.

I recently weeded the brassicas. As you can see below, it meant opening up the tight mesh that we use to cover the plants to stop white fly, cabbage whites etc attacking the plants. The mesh provides a micro climate which combines with the pest protection to make a good growing environment for not only the crops but also weeds and self-set potatoes (a few of them in the punnet). The Italian kale is one of three brassicas under this mesh. The others are purple sprouting broccoli and cabbages. These three should be ready to harvest in late autumn, winter and early spring. We have parsnips and leeks for autumn/winter harvest, and rampant self-seeded spinach and chard.

There are leisure and social aspects of the allotment which add to its attraction. One of them is that when we are there for an afternoon we always take a flask of tea and some cake. Pretty much the first thing we do is put the chairs out! When Will stayed in August we had our usual nice relaxing cup of tea as you can see below.

A finally there is quite a lot of sharing. Patrick makes a comfrey oil balm to rub on aching joints and limbs. Comfrey was called knit-bone and it has miraculous properties we find. P has used it before going to bed when his knees are playing up. The pain disappears very quickly so he can relax and go to sleep. Our allotment neighbour (Italian) has knee troubles and Patrick gave him some of his home made comfrey oil. As a thank you the photo below shows what was in our shed next time we were on the site!

It was a really good chianti which we much enjoyed!


Making Compost

We have three compost ‘bins’ in the garden and three on the allotment. The structure for five of them is basically a frame (posts or old pallets) with wire netting sides. The sixth is slotted planks bought for the purpose. All six bins are in a fairly precarious state now as over time the wood has loosened and rotted and the netting has distorted. However the outcome in terms of well-rotted vegetation is always good by our standards.

The three garden bins operate on a three year cycle 1. Filling with peelings, old plants etc, 2. Covered with plastic sacks and leave to rot, 3. Ready to use

The photo below shows them with compost ‘ready to use’ in the foreground, ‘currently filling up’ in the middle and ‘covered in plastic to rot down’ in the distance.

You can see that the compost that is ready to use is dark brown and friable but it is not in perfect condition. Larger pieces ideally should be removed and returned for further composting. It is also obvious from this picture that the bins are in a slightly ropey state!

The three allotment bins, sited behind the shed, work differently. One is for current waste while the other two are turned and watered almost weekly by Patrick. This means that by the end of the autumn two bins are well rotted and ready to be spread on the allotment as mulch/fertilizer over the winter. Even the active ‘filling’ bin has the turning and watering treatment to speed up the composting process. Its contents will be ready later.

The photo below shows the two well rotted bins in the foreground/centre and, almost invisible, the active bin that we are currently filling. Because the front of each bin is relatively insecure loose material leaks out which makes them look pretty shallow compared with the garden bins – not the case, as we discover when digging them out.

Below is a picture of Will turning the active compost.

Apart from the seriously collapsed netting it is almost impossible to see clearly! The brambles, tree and water butt block the view.

As an aside, that water butt (old barrel inherited from our predecessor) is one of four that are interconnected by pieces of old hose pipe. The rain from the shed roof feeds one of the water butts via a gutter and down pipe. Then the water finds its own level in the other three water butts so we have a huge storage system that is a massive help during dry spells. We can fill cans under the tap on one of the water butts or dip into the old barrels from the top.

Back to compost – we happily accept that partially rotted twigs etc may end up being spread on the ground. However a recent visit to my sister Gilly and her husband gave a demonstration of what we ought to do once the rotting process is well under way. She had open ‘bins’ like ours but they have gone as she has moved the contents into two plastic bins, the ones that look like daleks, with a lid on the top and a door at the bottom to scoop out the compost.

While we were there she spent a large chunk of an unseasonably hot September afternoon improving her compost by sieving it. The photos below show this.

  • Compost into bucket
  • From bucket to sieve
  • Sieving into wheelbarrow – look at the lovely fine compost in the barrow.

All this seems quite calm and relaxing with the low sun and lovely tidy set up. But it was very hard work!

What was left in the sieve was tipped into a garden sack ready to be returned to the compost bin once it was empty.

So a few ideas on composting that seem to work well whether the starting point is ancient home-made bins or well contained daleks.