Monthly Archives: September 2014

Autumn Green Beans

Autumn Green Beans: an indoor gardening experiment

How well will Dwarf Green Beans grow in Autumn here in northern England? Our main growing season here is during Spring and Summer, but I’ve read a few articles about gardening people trying to extend the productive season for vegetables.

With this idea in mind and following on from my air-pruning plant pot experimenting over the Summer, I’ve decided to try out my next experiment – growing Dwarf Green Beans in Autumn.

I’d read that the particular strain of bean I have chosen to plant can germinate at temperatures as low as 7 degrees Celsius. Having said that, I intended carrying out my Autumn bean-growing experiment indoors, partly because I anticipated a better crop of beans from a warmer environment and partly because I expect the snails with which I share my back yard would find green beans irresistible!

Upcycled air-pruning plant pots
Upcycled air-pruning plant pots

Creating some suitable plant pots was my first task. If you’ve seen any of my earlier posts on growing plants using the air-pruning method, you may recognise the upcycling transformation of these 4 pint milk cartons into air-pruning plant pots. For anyone looking for more information on air-pruning, you can find the detailed post on how I created the air-pruning pots and simple grow bags here.

Upcycled air-pruning plant pots for Dwarf Beans
D. T. Brown’s Primavera Dwarf Bean seeds ready to be sown on 9th August

My choice of bean is the variety “Primavera” from D.T. Brown’s seed merchants, a dwarf pencil podded French Bean. As I was looking to grow my plants indoors, I needed compact plants that would only grow to about 2 feet/60 cm in height. “Primavera” is highlighted in the catalogue as a D.T. Brown’s Choice vegetable and is expected to crop heavily in normal conditions. This variety is also advertised as being weather-resistant and having good disease resistance, so I was hopeful that I’d made a good choice.

Germinated Green Beans on 17 August
Dwarf Green Beans germinating after 8 days

I sowed two beans in general purpose compost in each of my air-pruning plant pots on 9th August. Just eight days later I was delighted to see the first three beans had germinated and the fourth bean germinated the following day. I kept the plants well-watered and placed them on a fairly sunny and bright west-facing window ledge.

By 12th September I noticed the first tiny beans had begun to develop on the plant furthest to the left in the photos.

Green Beans appearing on 22nd Sept
The first small green beans appearing on 22nd September

By 22nd September I was amazed to count 16 beans on this first plant but sadly there were none to see on the two plants in the right-hand plant pot. I observed that although flowers were forming on the plants in the right-hand pot they did not seem to be growing properly. I decided to move the right-hand plant pot and leave a good space between the pots to allow more light to reach these so-far-unproductive bean plants. Within five days of moving this pot I spotted a couple of tiny beans beginning to develop on these plants.

Green bean progress by 25th September
Green bean progress by 25th September

The beans on the first-cropping and most productive plant have progressed well. I photographed them on 25th September and again today, 29th September. Some of the beans are starting to fill out a little now too … not long before the first few will be ready to pick!

Green bean progress by 29th September
Green bean progress by 29th September

When I checked on my bean plants today, 29th September, I noted a couple of yellow leaves. I haven’t fed the bean plants up to this point but I shall start adding some of my Comfrey “magic potion” when I water the plants now.

We had some dull, damp and misty weather earlier this month but the last week has been much sunnier with some very warm days. As temperatures cool, I shall have to see how my Autumn-grown green beans continue to grow in their air-pruning plant pots. I shall let you know.

J Peggy Taylor

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Bluebells in woodland

The colour Blue for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

I decided to look for the colour blue in different seasons for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

For my header image I chose glorious wild English Bluebells, blooming in our beechwoods in May. For me, blooming Bluebells are the sign that Spring has really sprung.

Thinking about the colour blue made me ponder on the way the light changes at different times of year. I always notice this when I’m photographing locations that I visit often. I find the blue of the sky varies with the season and the prevailing weather conditions.

Blue sky and blue sea
Blue sky and blue sea

The sky in this image is for me the classic deep blue of an English Summer’s day – definitely a day to be down by the deep blue sea.

Blue sky and a blue hat
Blue sky and a blue hat

Our blue skies in Winter are often a much paler blue than in Summer, especially when it is snowy too. A warm blue wooly hat was definitely the headgear for this chilly walk in the woods.

A heavy November snow fall
A heavy snowfall in November coloured the late afternoon with a snowy blue-grey gloom

This is a strangely atmospheric shot I have shared before. The sky was covered in heavy snow clouds and it had snowed heavily all afternoon. The result by 5.30pm was this incredible blue-grey light. We were fascinated by it as we had never seen the like before. It was as if another world had descended out of the sky – I guess, in a way, it had!

Do take a look at what others have chosen for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week on the theme of the colour blue.

J Peggy Taylor

Cee’s Black & White Challenge – Water

Misty day in the woods - monochrome
Misty day in the woods – monochrome
Water eddies by the rocks - monochrome
The water eddies as it encounters moss-covered rocks in mid-stream

This post is linked to Cee’s Black & White Challenge – Water: from a drop to an ocean.
I often take photos that include water so I’d decided to try my hand at Cee’s Black & White Challenge this week. Black and White photography is something of a new learning curve for me so it seemed amazingly fortuitous when, just yesterday, I saw Cee had published her new Tips and Tricks on Black and White photography. Thanks Cee 😀

J Peggy Taylor

Rayon fabric

The original “Artificial Silk” was crafted into crochet!

Crochet is my favourite textile craft and I am always delighted when I see it being acknowledged or even celebrated in the public arena. A particularly historic example of significant crochet was on display on our recent visit to the exhibition “A Brilliant Mind: Sir Joseph Swan 1828-1914” at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne. Let me tell you more about this.

In my earlier post about the exhibition, I was showing you Joseph Swan’s most famous invention, the lightbulb – or more correctly, the Carbon Filament Lamp. He had first demonstrated the lamp in the early months of 1879. In his subsequent efforts to improve the filaments for his lamps, Joseph Swan began experimenting with extruding nitro-cellulose that had been extracted from plant fibre.

Swan’s experiments built on previous work by others including the German-Swiss chemist, Christian Friedrich Schoenbein, who had discovered nitro-cellulose around 1846. Initially, nitro-cellulose or ‘guncotton’ was used as an effective propellant for military purposes. Nottingham University has produced an informative and dramatic video on the chemistry of nitro-cellulose and guncotton as part of their Periodic Table series on YouTube.

Swan was looking to make strong thin filaments rather than dramatic flashing flames and he found that by squirting nitro-cellulose dissolved in acetic acid through a small hole and into a bath of alcohol, he could produce a thin continuous thread. This thread was thin enough to be used as a textile fibre. Joseph Swan called his invention ‘artificial silk’. Hannah Swan, Swan’s wife, crocheted the new ‘artificial silk’ fibre into doilies, table mats and the edging of this silk handkerchief. This exhibit is currently on loan to Newcastle’s Discovery Museum from the Science Museum in London.

Joseph Swan's 'artificial silk' crocheted by his wife, Hannah
Joseph Swan’s ‘artificial silk’ crocheted by his wife, Hannah, into a handkerchief border

Hannah Swan’s crocheted textiles were displayed as part of the Exhibition of Inventions in London in 1885. (You can see a clearer image of the crochet edging on this webpage.)

International exhibitions were something of a feature of the cultural scene in the later years of the 19th century, starting with the Great Exhibition of 1851, held at the purpose-built Crystal Palace in London. With over 2 million visitors attending the Exhibition of Inventions during the Autumn months of 1885, I can imagine Hannah Swan was very proud that her crochet had taken its place in the history of inventions.

Joseph Swan understood that his fibre could be an alternative to silk but although he did obtain a patent for the production method, Swan’s ‘artificial silk’ was not produced commercially in Britain. It was the French chemist, Chardonnet, who had also been working on the use of nitro-cellulose for fibre production, who became known as the ‘father of Rayon‘. Rayon was the name by which this type of cellulose-based fibre became known. The header image I have added to this post shows an example of woven rayon fabric on a vintage shirt of mine. However, it was another cellulose-based substance, viscose, that became the basis for the artificial silk industry in Britain.

From the early years of the Industrial Revolution right through the Victorian era, the ingenuity of the human mind leapt on at a great pace, with discoveries and inventions of all kinds. Joseph Swan was in his element during this period. In 1906 he was quoted as saying:

“If I could have had the power of choice of the particular space of time within which my life should be spent I believe I would have chosen precisely my actual lifetime. What a glorious time it has been! Surely no other 78 years in all the long history of the world ever produced an equal harvest of invention and discovery for the beneficial use and enlightenment of mankind.”

I liked that Joseph Swan saw the technological developments of his lifetime as being beneficial and could stimulate future developments – though I would like to think he meant ‘womankind’ too 😉 … especially given his wife Hannah’s assistance with the historically important crochet!

J Peggy Taylor

Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne

Discovering a Building of Bright Sparks for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

We love museums. One of our longtime favourites here in Newcastle is the Discovery Museum, our local museum of science, engineering and local history. Before it became a museum in the 1980s, this classic red brick Victorian building was the headquarters of the North East branch of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Called “Blandford House”, the building first opened in 1899. The domes on the turrets are made of copper and have developed their distinctive green patina over the years.

Discovery Museum, Newcastle upn Tyne
This red brick Victorian building houses Newcastle’s Discovery Museum

The contemporary colourful entrance arch leads visitors to the glass entrance hall. The building has been partially modernised inside too, for example, the addition of glass lifts (elevators 😉 ) and a modern open aspect stairwell, but it does also retain some wonderful Victorian features such as the Great Hall on the fourth floor which is now used for special events and some visiting exhibitions.

Discovery Museum Newcastle entrance archway
The contemporary and distinctive arched entrance to Newcastle’s Discovery Museum

The modern features contrast with the solid painted brick walls and the old metal painted pipework that is still visible around the ceilings of the galleries. The building still has much of the feeling of a Victorian industrial workshop and this works well as the setting for a museum journey into the history of inventions and the lives and culture of the people of the North East.

In our family, we associate the Discovery Museum very much with the hands-on exhibits in the Science Maze – the numerous interactive science activities that demonstrate electricity, magnetism, light, pulleys, gears or sound. Many happy and informative hours have been spent in this part of the museum. There are also lots of interesting exhibits here, some of which celebrate the bright ideas of some of the North East’s home-grown inventors including Charles Parsons and William Armstrong.

Static steam engine in Discovery Museum Newcastle
Static steam engine, “Eunice”, worked in a commercial laundry in Gateshead

There are some suberb static steam engines that have seen service in industry and training colleges in the region alongside a range of technology ‘relics’ – from mid-20th century TV sets and reel to reel film to mini-disc players and Sony Walkmans. There are 19th century telegraph machines demonstrating the capacity to transfer information using electrical signals – a kind of pre-cursor to the internet, and there are telephones too, including such ‘old-fashioned’ things as car phones and mobile phones from the early years of this century. These exhibits show just how fast the technology aspect of our lives has changed in the last century or so.

The image below shows the huge metal amplifying horn that formed part of Charles Parsons’ early version of a music amplifier – the Auxetophone. The machine worked using an air control valve that was attached to the gramophone needle and then passed the pulses of air through into the horn to amplify the sound. It was extremely loud apparently at up to 90 decibels, with little in the way of volume control! Charles Parsons is rather better known as the inventor of the steam turbine and his first steam-driven vessel, the very impressive Turbinia, stands in her own gallery on the ground floor of the museum. The Auxetophone was merely a hobby project for Parsons. The horn stands around eight feet high (almost 2.5 metres).

The Auxetophone horn - part of the early music amplifier invented by Charles Parsons
The Auxetophone horn – part of the early music amplifier invented by Charles Parsons

The reason for our cultural caper to the Discovery Museum this week was to see a particular exhibition on one of our Victorian inventors from the North East, the chemist, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan. You may not be familiar with the name of Joseph Swan, but you are likely to be familiar with one of his most famous inventions – the lightbulb.

Early commercial lightbulbs on display in the Discovery Museum's Science Maze
Early commercial lightbulbs on display in the Discovery Museum’s Science Maze

As part of the exhibition, appropriately entitled “A Brilliant Mind: Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, 1828 – 1914”, the Science Museum in London had loaned several items including the original lamp that Joseph Swan used to demonstrate his invention in Newcastle and Gateshead in the early months of 1879. In 1880 Swan asked his friend, the inventor and industrialist William Armstrong, if he could try out his invention to light up Armstrong’s country house at Cragside in Northumberland. William Armstrong had previously created his own source of hydroelectricity using a stream that ran through the grounds of his house. I think it is very interesting that the first house in the world to be lit with electric lamps was also powered by renewable energy – and this was 1880!

By 1883 Joseph Swan had teamed up with American physicist, Thomas Edison, who had also been working to develop a filament lamp. You can see their lamps side by side on this link to the Science Museum. Together Edison and Swan formed the first company to produce lightbulbs commercially – the Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company which was located at Benwell in Newcastle. The Discovery Museum’s example of the first commercially available electric lamps of the type used at William Armstrong’s Cragside home is shown displayed as part of the Swan exhibition.

Swan's Patent Carbon Filament Lamp
The first commercially available version of Joseph Swan’s lightbulb … but what a price tag! £140 in today’s money (that’s $230)!

Another of Joseph Swan’s inventions that may be of interest to all you photographers out there was his Carbon Process that allowed photographers to print their photographs in permanent pigments, patented by Swan in 1864. Swan’s process for the first time provided photographers with a permanent printing process that could be carried out with readily available materials. Prior to this, early photographic prints had suffered with fading. The carbon powder was used in a thin film of gelatine and was sensitised with potassium chromate.

Swan Carbon Process Photographic Print c1867
A example of Joseph Swan’s Carbon Process for producing permanent photographic prints

Swan’s patent was bought up by the Autotype and Publishing Company in London and the process was used for around a hundred years to produce high quality photographic prints. Here is the example of Swan’s Carbon Process for photographic prints that was on display in the exhibition (with a reflection of my son and Charles Parsons’ Turbinia in the background 😉 ).

All in all, we enjoyed a fascinating visit to the Discovery Museum. From a parent’s point of view it was also interesting to see how our boys have ‘moved on’ from the hands-on interactive exhibits to being keenly interested in studying the technological developments displayed in the exhibition cases. My youngest son’s only criticism was that he wanted more information on each of the exhibits! Museums and art galleries are such a fabulous educational experience and I always consider us very fortunate to have access to so many of these education treasure houses locally to us, free of charge – though we do post a voluntary donation in the strategically-placed collection boxes, as we know such places do not run on fresh air. Thank you to Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives service for these wonderful resources!

This post is my entry for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge on the theme of Buildings this week. Please do check out other entries to the challenge.

J Peggy Taylor

Sweet Pea plants growing on a willow garden screen

Air-pruning plant pot experiment – UPDATE

Growing plants in air-pruning plant pots was a new experience for me this year so I have been watching and learning from my Sweet Peas as they have gradually progressed.

My air-pruning experiment: the project progress

My six upcycled air-pruning plant pots now complete with their newly sown Sweet Pea seeds
My six upcycled air-pruning plant pots now complete with their newly sown Sweet Pea seeds

It seems a long time since mid-April when I sowed the Sweet Pea seeds in their cosy grow bags inside my upcycled milk carton air-pruning plant pots. The seeds quickly germinated and the Sweet Pea plants were soon on their way.

Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen
Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen

When I put them outside in the middle of May, the plants only just reached up far enough out of their pots for me to encourage the shoots to set off on their journey up the jute and willow garden screen that I had specially constructed for this purpose.

By the end of July the plants were grown to their full height (1.8 metres/6 feet) and the first flowers appeared … pink, followed by white and then a deep maroon.

Pink, White, Maroon - Sweet Peas on the willow screen
Pink, White, Maroon – Sweet Peas flowering on the willow garden screen

My air-pruning experience: thoughts and observations

Whilst generally I am very pleased with my air-pruning experience during this Spring and Summer, I have encountered a couple of problems with my gardening experiment that I thought I’d talk a bit about in this post.

Air-pruning plant pots in the microclimate behind the wall
My air-pruning plant pots in the cooler, damper micro-climate behind the wall

I set three pots of plants to grow from behind my small yard wall (approx. 90cm/3 feet high) and three pots of plants to grow up over my yard gate, which is around the same height. Although these two areas are only inches apart, they have very different micro-climates.

The small area behind the brick wall is fairly dark and damp because it is immediately adjacent to our refuse and recycling bins. I had also previously planted my new Willow cuttings in their pots in this corner of the yard and, as they had grown on a little, they affected the light level too. The combination of these elements means this part of the yard tends to stay cooler with no direct sun.

As I'd anticipated the Sweet Pea plants are mainly growing on the outside of my backyard garden screen
As I’d anticipated the Sweet Pea plants are mainly growing on the outside of my backyard garden screen

The wooden planked gate forms the boundary to the other half of the yard. With the open yard area immediately inside the gate, this half of the yard has more air movement, plus the warmth of the sun soon warms up the wooden gate.

In the cooler, damper conditions behind the wall, it wasn’t long before the snails showed up! When I say ‘showed up’, it was mainly a case of ‘left a trail’ … not only of glistening slime, but also of half-chewed leaves – though only on one particular Sweet Pea plant. Why only one plant, I can’t be certain – but I was pleased to see at least it wasn’t all three!

Snail in Sweet Pea grow bag
Spot the snail snuggled into the Sweet Pea grow bag!

One day I managed to catch up with my plant-munching visitor as it snuggled down into the evidently-too-cosy grow bag! Have you ever found yourself addressing a mollusc?! I must say, I took pity on the poor starving creature who was, of course, merely seeking an evening meal and a bed for the night! I did however remove it from the Sweet Pea pot and found it a new home elsewhere!

Moody mollusc - my snail visitor
Moody Mollusc peering disgruntledly from under its shell

There was one other aspect of my Sweet Pea air-pruning plant pot experiment that I have could have been happier with and that relates to the size of the pots I chose to use. If you have grown Sweet Peas before, you will know they normally prefer to grow in quite deep soil. However, I had previously grown them successfully in a pot that was not much deeper than the air-pruning plant pots I was using this year, so that was why I had decided it was worth the experiment.

The problem I encountered was this: as the plants grew taller, the lower leaves quickly yellowed, despite regular watering and feeding. I took a close look at the root systems as far as I could observe them from the outside of the pots. The roots had grown well and exactly as expected in the air-pruning plant pots. There were only the tips of roots showing inside the closed-in areas of the pots. Where the fabric grow-bag was open to the air, the roots had not penetrated the grow-bag. I will be taking an even closer look at how the root systems have developed when the plants are finished flowering and I take them down.

Visible root growth in air pruning plant pot
Root growth in one of the air-pruning plant pots on the wooden gate
Roots in air pruning plant pots
Roots in the air pruning plant pots behind the wall

The plants have reached their full height and flowered, but the yellowing of the leaves has somewhat spoiled their overall appearance on the willow screen. I definitely feel the Sweet Pea plants needed larger pots with a greater quantity of compost to supply them with sufficient nutrients and water. (Apologies for the slightly blurred image below – we had windy weather in August and it was impossible to find a time when the light and the weather allowed for better photo shooting!)

Yellowing foliage on my Sweet Peas
My Sweet Peas at the end of August – flowers but also yellowing foliage

I was very pleased that the Sweet Pea plants grew to their full height, though on hindsight, given the plant pot size I had used, I would probably have been better managing the growth differently. I nipped out the main growing tips when the plants reached the top of the screen, but if I had done this a little earlier and kept the plants a little shorter, I think perhaps the issue with the dying foliage may not have been so bad.

The size of the pots has definitely been an issue I’d rethink for another time. I need either larger pots for Sweet Peas or perhaps I need to choose a smaller growing plant. Another idea I had intended for some of the Sweet Pea plants was to plant them into a wooden plant trough. But, as so often happens, time simply ran out for that idea this year. However, I may contemplate creating some troughs in either wood or woven willow for next year so I shall add it to my Winter projects list!

J Peggy Taylor

Colourful Winter sunrise silhouettes the early morning landscape

Nature’s Colour Contrasts for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Nature has a keen eye for colour and she greets us in every season with so many different colour contrasts.

Pink and yellow

In our valley we are treated to some colourful Winter sunrises when the sky is aglow with amazing pinks and yellows.

Yellow and green

Yellow Winter Aconites against green leaves
The golden globes of Winter Aconites and their bright green leaves

It was mid-February this year when we spotted the glorious golden globes of the Winter Aconites Eranthis hyemalis as we took a woodland walk one sunny afternoon. I always look forward to seeing these flowers blooming for they bring with them the promise that Spring is not far off.

Yellow and blue

Yellow Gorse against blue sky
Gorse in bloom against the bright blue February sky

Gorse is a rather prickly shrub that grows widely in wild places in our area. Its yellow pea-type flowers begin to bloom from late January bringing some welcome brightness in our hedges and woods, replacing the browns of Winter.

Purple and orange

Purple and orange - crocuses in early Spring
Crocuses in early Spring

Like many people, we grow a pot or two of crocuses in our back yard. When our purple crocuses bloom, I know that Winter really is past and Spring is here to stay. The bright orange stamens seem to glow when the Spring sunshine catches them.

Purple and green

Carder Bee feeding on Common Knapweed
Bee-on-a-flower – a Carder Bee feeding on Common Knapweed

Our family has spent many happy hours focusing on creatures on Common Knapweed – literally! This beautiful purple flower of Summer is one of my favourite colours and the greens of the grass and foliage create a perfect backdrop.

Orange and purple

Comma butterfly on thistles
Comma butterfly on thistles

Colourful butterflies are another delight of Summer. The orange of this Comma butterfly contrasts well against the purple thistles.

Red-orange and green

Rowanberries - close-up
Rowanberries really are full of sunshine

As the Summer draws to a close, the hedgerows fill up with Autumn fruits. Red berries against green foliage are a certain reminder that it is time to stock up the larder with these juicy fruits, full of captured Summer sunshine, to see us through the dark days of Winter. We also make sure we leave plenty for the birds and beasties.

Do take a look at the ‘Contrasting Colors’ others have chosen for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Net Neutrality

Now is the time to fight to preserve the free and open internet we have all come to know and rely upon. The mega-internet-service-providers in the US are lobbying the Federal Communications Commission so they can charge internet companies for access to the ISPs’ customers. In his WordPress News blog post this morning, Paul Sieminski explains,

This means there could be “fast lanes” for companies who are able to pay providers for preferred internet access, while everyone else gets stuck in the “slow lane”…which means applications won’t perform as quickly, webpages will load slowly, and of course, buffering. A slow “still loading” spinner will be an unfortunate, but common sight on the new, closed internet that the big providers want.

WordPress have devised a plugin for our blogs that demonstrates how the loss of Net Neutrality would affect us as we try and use the sites we love. I have just enabled this plugin so occasionally you might experience just how it will feel if Net Neutrality is lost … the dreaded “Still Loading” spinner – going round and round and round …

If you have not done so already, please support this important cause. These giant internet service providers should not be able to hold the internet – and us – to ransom!
Join the Fight for Net Neutrality.

J Peggy Taylor