Monthly Archives: July 2016

Large subjects - cumulus cloud

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Large subjects

For Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge this week we are looking at large subjects. ‘Large’ is a relative term. To appreciate the scale of a subject, we have to look at size compared to something else. The large subjects I have chosen from either the built or natural landscape are all quite substantial … at least compared to a human.

Medieval manor house - black and white photo
Medieval manor house

This medieval manor house was three storeys high and even the remaining ruins are quite impressive. In this image, you can see the scale of the building compared to the oak tree immediately behind it.

Victorian railway bridge - black and white photo
Victorian railway bridge

This Victorian railway bridge has been built very tall to accomodate the contours of the ground here on the banks of the River Derwent, so that the railway could be constructed on a given level. You can see the scale of the bridge compared to my son who is walking underneath it.

The Broad Oak - black and white photo
The Broad Oak

The Broad Oak gives its name to the farm on which the tree stands and what a magnificent ancient oak tree it is too. The scale of the tree can be deduced from the other trees and bushes in its vicinity.

Whitburn windmill - black-white photo
Whitburn windmill

Whitburn windmill is a restored 18th century flour mill and now it towers above the new housing nearby.

Do take a look at the large subjects others have found for Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Advertisements
Bit and braces - black and white

Old Shed Treasures for Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge

“Older than 50 years” is the topic for Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge this week. Rather than root about in my photo archives, I decided to have a root about in the old shed in my new allotment garden. I found all kinds of old treasures and photographed them on the old cupboard that doubles as a bench and storage space in the garden shed.

The old shed - black-white
The Old Shed

The old shed itself definitely falls within this week’s topic. Originally, this building was constructed as a garage, probably shortly after World War II. I remember there were some old garages of this type near where I lived as a young child, back in the 1960s. The garage was probably saved from demolition and then transported to its current location and repurposed as a garden shed.

I love the smell of old garden sheds – the mingling aromas of musty dampness, machine oil and old creosote wood preserver, all mixed up together. Rust, dust and cobwebs cover the array of relics left behind from a by-gone age.

Old fashioned hand braces
Old hand braces and one complete with a bit

Before hand drills were made in moulded plastic and powered by electricity, these are one of the tools people would have used – a brace and bit. I know some woodworkers still use these tools today as we bought a brand new one for our woodworking son a couple of years ago. These old and rusty hand braces hang from one of the old shed beams. One of them still has its ‘bit’ in place – I wonder what it was last used for, and when?

Shoe maker's last - black-white
Shoe maker’s last for mending shoes

In years long gone, shoes were made of leather and people mended their own at home … or in the garden shed, apparently! This rusty old shoe last would have been used to support the shoe whilst it was re-soled, or re-heeled with new material. Here in our village, it’s very likely that the last was used to mend the pitmens’ heavy boots that they wore when working in the coal mines. Can you hear the ghostly echo of the shoe mender’s hammer as he taps in the new nails?

Hacksaw and Screwdriver with turned wood handles - black-white
Saw and screwdriver with turned wood handles

Wood turning is a heritage skill that we’ve learned a bit about in our family. Our youngest son went through a keenly interested phase and he and I ended up building a treadle-powered pole lathe from raw timber, which was a wonderful learning experience.

In the old shed, I came across these very old hand tools with turned wood handles and they reminded me of our wood turning project. You don’t often see tools with turned wood handles nowadays as moulded plastic has become the norm.

I had fun exploring in the old shed for this photo challenge … and it provided a welcome cool space on a particularly hot and sunny Summer’s day too!

Do take a look at what old treasures others have found for Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Home-grown-potatoes

Home-grown Potatoes

One of the special moments in the gardening year is digging down into the earth to harvest your very first batch of first early potatoes of the season.

In the shops, these early potatoes are known as ‘New Potatoes’ … but there is nothing like the the taste of delicious earthy tubers you have lovingly raised yourself.

‘First Early’ potatoes are simply the type that are normally planted earliest in the year and are therefore ready to harvest first. The ‘First Early’ potatoes I chose to plant this year are the Pentland Javelin variety.

Back in the cold days of January, I took delivery of my Pentland Javelin ‘seed’ potatoes and set them up on cardboard egg boxes to ‘chit’. ‘Chitting’ potatoes means leaving them in a light, frost-free place to start sprouting little shoots from the potato ‘eyes’.

01Pentland Javelins chitting in greenhouse
My Pentland Javelin seed potatoes chitting in the greenhouse

Here in the northern UK, we would often expect to be planting out our first early potatoes during March. But with our cold Spring, this wasn’t possible this year. My Pentland Javelins sat patiently in the greenhouse until 11th April before I felt the Winter had sufficiently turned to Spring to risk planting out my first earlies.

Planting potatoes on comfrey leaf beds
Planting potatoes on beds of fresh comfrey leaves

Each seed potato is set into its own little planting hole on a bed of fresh green Comfrey leaves. For me, this is another indicator that it’s time to plant my early potatoes – when the Comfrey has grown enough leaves to make the potato planting hole beds. I add Comfrey leaves because Comfrey is a wonderful natural plant food that feeds my growing potato tubers as the Comfrey leaves break down in the soil. I’d also added a good helping of garden compost to the planting row, as potatoes really benefit from a nutrient-rich soil.

The seed potato tubers are then covered over with a generous amount of soil – and then, you just sit back and wait …

Potato bed - bracken mulch
Bracken mulch to protect the potato bed from snow

But then … oh no! Two weeks after I’d planted my early potatoes, the Winter returned with a final icy blast! I had to dash off and collect bracken to cover over my already-planted potato bed. The bracken mulch provided its protection beautifully – though, I did leave it in place for a few weeks … just to be on the safe side!

Early growth of potato plants
Early growth of potato plants

Gradually, the green shoots of the potato ‘tops’ began to push up through the soil. By mid-May all of the potato plants were showing some green leaves.

Happing or earthing up potato plants
Happing (or earthing) up my potato plants

We had some heavy rain leading into the Bank Holiday Weekend at the end of May and this ample watering produced something of a growth spurt in my potato plants. This meant my task for Bank Holiday Monday was ‘happing up’ the potato plants – otherwise known as ‘earthing up’ – which involves drawing up the soil around the potato plants, leaving a small tuft of green leaves sticking out at the top.

Well-grown potato plants - tall as a garden fork
Well-grown potato plants – tall as the garden fork

The potato plants then grew, and grew and grew … the potato tops were like trees! The potato tops became a regular topic of conversation on the garden. By the end of June they had grown as tall as the garden fork!

Checking if First Early potatoes are ready to harvest
The very first tuber – are the potatoes ready yet?

Now it was time for the Big Question – the exciting part. The tops were well grown. The flowers were beginning to show. But were my early potatoes ready to harvest? All the signs were there, though I still wasn’t quite sure if the potatoes had been growing long enough.

Full of anticipation, I dug up my first Pentland Javelin potato plant. There was my first potato!

Harvesting Pentland Javelins - not quite ready
Harvesting Pentland Javelins – tubers are still a bit too small

When I dug in further, I could see there were a promising number of tubers growing, but, as I’d suspected, they were still a bit too small. I would need to be patient and wait a little longer.

Harvesting my first Pentland Javelin potatoes of 2016
Harvesting my first Pentland Javelin potatoes of 2016

Two weeks into July was the Big Day – my first potato harvest in my new garden space. I selected two plants with open flowers and dug in with great expectations. I wasn’t disappointed this time. Each plant produced a selection of decent sized tubers.

First kilo of Pentland Javelin potatoes 2016
On the scales – my first kilo of Pentland Javelin potatoes 2016

When I returned home with my first cargo of newly harvested potatoes, I weighed them. There was about a kilo of potatoes from the 2 plants.

As I’m sure you know, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ … and I can tell you, my Pentland Javelin first earlies did not disappoint. They are very tasty, with that genuine ‘earthy’ flavour of home-grown potatoes. Now I’m looking up more potato recipes … πŸ™‚

J Peggy Taylor

Abbey Road sign in black and white

Having fun with signs for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

First, I shall say, “Thank you so much!” to Cee for choosing my Fun Foto Challenge entry last week on bridges, as one of her Featured Bloggers πŸ˜€

This week I decided to have fun collecting some new photos of signs for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge. A day of appointments in places at opposite ends of our valley gave me an ideal opportunity.

Under Offer sign under a tree
Under Offer sign … under a tree

My son spotted this one first. “Under Offer”, the sign declared boldly. “That’s not under offer,” said my son, “it’s definitely under a tree!” Oh ha ha! Very funny!

We have no idea what is or was “Under Offer”, but I doubt very much that it was referring to either the tree or the mid-high street small oasis of greenery to which the tree belonged. By chance, the blue-fronted shop in the background does happen to be an estate agents office. Now that could be a possible source of an “Under Offer” sign … however, the truth remains a mystery πŸ˜€

Abbey Road sign and other signs in antique shop window
Signs in the Consett antique shop

A little further along Consett’s Middle Street is an antique shop. In the window, the “Abbey Road” sign stopped me in my tracks. For many of us, Abbey Road immediately makes us think of the legendary 60s group, The Beatles.

I don’t know if this is a genuine road sign, somehow acquired from the leafy London road made famous by The Beatles album of the same name. The “Abbey Road” sign was accompanied by a “Baker Street” sign – Sherlock Holmes’ home territory. Seeing both these road signs together made me wonder whether it’s more likely that these signs are perhaps replicas rather than originals.

The hand-stencilled “Jewellery Repairs” sign in this window struck me as rather quaint and in keeping with being in an antique shop. Nowadays, we tend to see signs that have been printed off a computer (like my next sign) rather than being hand-made.

Door-signs Blaydon Primary Care Centre
Door signs at Blaydon Primary Care Centre

There are three signs on the main entrance door at the Blaydon Primary Care Centre. Two are fairly standard signs for doors of this type, but the third sign always makes me smile πŸ™‚ The term “heely shoes” is apparently a colloquialism that even I, as a native of this area, hadn’t encountered before I saw it on this door sign.

In case you’re wondering, ‘heely shoes’ will refer to shoes with stiletto-type heels or similar. As this building doubles as a sports centre with swimming pool as well as a health centre, I imagine that there could be a risk of skidding or slipping on wet floors in some areas, hence the very sensible decision to prohibit the wearing of high heeled shoes.

A1North - road signs
A1 North – road signs

After our day’s appointments we headed for our bus home. The view from the bus stop includes several road signs (you can make this image a little larger to see the details by clicking on it) : the green “A1 North” indicating this is a slip road onto the A1 major trunk road for drivers travelling north of Newcastle; the yellow sign with black arrow and triangle, I believe indicates an emergency diversion route for this major road; a little further up the slip road is the “No stopping on the motorway” sign – a blue circle in a red circle with a red cross.

My favourite sign is the last of this group of road signs – the white sign with the pictures in red circles. The pictures indicate that no farm tractors or road digging machines are allowed on this major road during the hours specified in the lower sign – 7-9am and 4-6pm Monday to Friday – that is the hours commuters generally call ‘the rush hour’ when everyone is frantically trying to get to work or school on time, or trying to get home afterwards.

If you can imagine being stuck behind a farm tractor or road digger while trying to rush to work in the morning, you can probably understand why prohibiting these vehicles at peak times may a good plan. However, it always makes me smile because during the rush hour along this stretch of road, the traffic stands nose to tail, edging occasionally along the road at a snail’s pace. I’m not sure it matters much whether you’re stuck behind a farm tractor, a bus or the most powerful car on the road … you’ll still be standing still πŸ˜€

I hope some of my signs make you smile too πŸ™‚

Do take a look at Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week for more signs.

J Peggy Taylor

Cee's Fun Foto Challenge Badge

Planting up my herb garden

Planting up my Herb Garden

Cooking herbs are essential, aren’t they? How could people possibly manage without bunches of fresh parsley? Or pinches of thyme and marjoram? Or sprigs of mint? Imagine having no handfuls of fresh sage leaves just there when you need them!

Well, perhaps I exaggerate slightly πŸ˜‰ But I find herbs really are quite easy to grow. Even if you don’t have a garden or outdoor space, your herbs will grow happily in pots on a reasonably sunny window ledge. Before I had my allotment garden, I grew my herbs in pots on my kitchen window ledge or in my yard. Now, I’m growing herbs on the window ledge AND on the allotment. Let me show you what’s where.

Old Thyme plant - New Thyme plants
Old Thyme – New Thyme

My old pot of Thyme was well-used but had grown woody and the leaves are now very small. This Spring I sowed some new Thyme. When I returned to blogging after a long break, I talked about “Making more Thyme“. The thyme has now begun growing on a little and I’ve potted it up into a terracotta pot on my kitchen window ledge. Thyme doesn’t like wet soil, so I find a clay pot is best for growing it.

Pot Marjoram - new plant
Pot Marjoram – new plant

I was aiming to grow Pot Marjoram directly in the herb garden but when the snails ate my seedlings, I resorted to sowing more seed indoors in a seed tray. As with the thyme, the marjoram is growing on a little now and I’ve potted it up into a terracotta pot on the window ledge.

I’ve not harvested leaves from my new thyme or marjoram yet. I’m letting them grow on a little more first. Both my thyme and marjoram plants have benefitted from pinching out – that is removing the growing tips to encourage side growth. If you’re new to gardening or would like to learn more about the process of pinching out, you might like to take a look at the helpful Green Thumb Tip on pinching out by fellow blogger, and experienced gardener, Woodland Gnome, over on her Forest Garden blog.

Titan parsley plants going to seed
Titan parsley plants going to seed

Parsley is a herb I use regularly, so I grow lots of it. Here in my herb garden you can see last year’s parsley plants. This is a flat leaved variety of parsley – “Titan” (from D T Brown). I’ve found it a very sweet, tasty parsley with the deep green leaves produced on short stalks.

I over-wintered some of these plants in pots in the greenhouse so that they still grew and I could harvest from them during the Winter months. Some of the parsley plants just stayed in the ground in a sheltered part of the garden through the Winter and, although they grew more slowly, they were fine. I’ve left my parsley plants to grow their flower heads now and then they’ll hopefully produce seed.

Giant Italian Parsley - in the greenhouse
Giant Italian Parsley – in the greenhouse

This Spring, I’ve chosen a different type of parsley – “Italian Giant” parsley, from the Organic Catalogue. It took the plants a while to get going (though, as with many plants this year, I suspect it did not care for our cold Spring), but now these Italian Giants are beginning to live up to their name.

My Italian Giants are looking rather large for their small pots in the greenhouse so I must get them potted on again soon. I have just begun harvesting leaves from these plants. The large flat bright green leaves are produced on long stalks. I think perhaps this variety doesn’t have quite the full parsley flavour of the “Titan” variety and seems a little drier and less juicy, but it’s still tasty enough.

The Mint cutting in my backyard is growing on into a plant in its own right now
The Mint cutting in my backyard grew on into a plant in its own right

The spearmint plant that I’d nurtured from a cutting a couple of years ago had grown to a nice clump in a pot in my yard. I had hoped to add the mint plant to my new herb garden this Spring, but sadly somehow it didn’t survive the Winter and I lost it altogether.

Large bucket of new herbs
Large bucket of new herbs

To replace my lost mint, I asked a neighbour (who I knew had a large patch of mint in his garden) if he could take a couple of mint cuttings for me. He readily agreed … and the following day presented me with this beautiful large bucketful of herbs – far more than the plant cuttings I was expecting! I could see there was a large clump of spearmint, complete with roots. I could not resist taking a few leaves for a lovely, refreshing cup of mint tea … mmmmm … wonderful.

In the bucket with the mint, there was also a large clump of sage, flowering freely with its gorgeous bee-friendly purple flowers. Sage flowers are so bee-friendly, there were bees visiting these flowers as I was collecting the bucket of herbs from my neighbour, bees visiting while the bucket of herbs stood in my yard and more bees visiting when I took the herbs down to my allotment garden! If you want bees, plant sage!

New sage plants in the herb garden
New sage plants in the herb garden

When I investigated my bucket of new herbs more closely, I found there were two full sage plants, complete with roots. I’ve now planted up these sage plants in the centre of my herb garden, next to my own original sage plants. And the bees are still visiting my sage flowers!

My new Spearmint in a large pot
My new Spearmint in a large pot

I planted my new clump of spearmint into a very large pot and it is currently still standing on the herb garden, though I will be moving it elsewhere in the garden at some point. You have to be careful with mint, as normally it is a very strong grower and can easily do a bit of a take-over in your garden if you aren’t careful. I will choose a permanent spot for my mint when I’ve thought carefully about where will be best. Mint needs rich, moist soil which is quite the opposite of some of the other herbs I like to grow.

Lavender among the herbs
Lavender among the herbs

As well as my culinary herbs, I love lavender. I’ve grown pots of lavender in my yard for years. I love to brush my hands over the leaves and breathe in that beautiful perfume. Lavender is another herb flower that is very popular with bees. The lavender I grow is the old English lavender, “Vera”.

In addition to the lavender plants I keep in my backyard, I have planted out a couple of well-grown lavender cuttings into my herb garden, between the parsley and the sage. I take and cultivate cuttings from my lavender plants to create more plants. As well as receiving unexpected bundles of beautiful herbs from generous neighbours ( πŸ˜‰ ), taking cuttings is a really useful way of producing new plants for free. I’ll have to show you that process another time.

Pot Marigolds in the herb garden
Pot Marigolds in the herb garden

For the very first time in my life, I am growing Pot Marigolds. I don’t how I’ve never grown them before, but this year I decided to rectify this oversight. I sowed the seeds directly into ‘pots’ in the herb garden. I grew them in bottomless pots so that I knew where I’d sown them! The Pot Marigold plants that the snails have kindly left for me seem to be growing on quite well now and I can even see the promise of flowers.

Soapwort seedlings
Happy, healthy Soapwort seedlings … and they continued to grow

The final herb in my herb garden at the moment is soapwort (Saponaria officinalis). I raised these soapwort plants in my yard a couple of years back (you can read my soapwort tale here). I decided the soapwort plants would benefit from the sunnier position of the herb garden, though, rather like the mint, I’ll need to be careful that the soapwort doesn’t take over, as it too can be a rather vigorous grower.

My soapwort - carefully pruned by the rabbit
My soapwort – carefully pruned by the rabbit

However, I must say, so far there isn’t much chance of the soapwort running amok, as my bob-tailed garden helper is keeping it rather well-pruned! Yes. Of all the herb plants in the herb garden, my visiting rabbit only seems interested in eating … soapwort! πŸ™‚

Are you a herb gardener too? Do you grow your favourite herbs in your garden or in pots?

J Peggy Taylor

WordPress Photo Challenge: Looking Up … at my tall peas

My Champion of England tall peas reach the 8 foot bar
My Champion of England tall peas reach the 8 foot crossbar

Looking up in my allotment garden today, I found my Champion of England tall climbing peas had reached the 8 foot high crossbar on their giant pea frame πŸ˜€ (That’s almost 2.5 metres, if you’re metric!)

If you want to learn more about growing climbing peas or about saving this heritage variety of peas from extinction, you can find the rest of the story about my Champion of England tall climbing peas in my post, “A tall pea plant tale”.

For the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge this week, Nancy asked us to “Look up”.

J Peggy Taylor

There’s football and there’s Fairtrade football

I don’t think I’ve ever written anything about football before. But you can’t live in North East England and not have at least a passing interest in ‘The Beautiful Game’. The rivalry is legendary between the fans of Newcastle and Sunderland, our local North East teams. Though, tonight, all eyes are on Wales and we are willing them to come through against Portugal in the Euro 2016 semi-final.

There is one key piece of equipment for playing football, whether in an international stadium like the Stade des LumiΓ¨res, where tonight’s game takes place, or in your local park, school playground or on the beach. A football.

Today, I learned from the Fairtrade Foundation that you can now buy Fairtrade footballs – they’re emblazoned with the familiar Fairtrade logo that you see on Fairtrade coffee, tea, sugar or bananas. Bala Sport’s Fairtrade footballs are designed in Glasgow by Reflex Blue and hand-stitched in Fairtrade-certified factories in Sialkot in Pakistan. This is where 70% of the world’s hand-stitched footballs are made – 40 million of them every year.

Clipper Fairtrade Green Tea
My box of Clipper Fairtrade Green Tea. You can see the Fairtrade logo on the bottom right hand corner

Unfortunately, not all of these 40 million footballs are made under Fairtrade conditions. Many people who work in the football manufacturing supply chain are paid poorly and have very poor working environments. Bala Sport’s Fairtrade footballs are leading the way to change this. Fairtrade football makers receive fair wages and have safe working conditions. The Fairtrade Premium that is also paid, means projects such as extra health care or free transport can be provided, or even clean water for the workers and their community.

The Fairtrade Premium is a 10% extra sum of money that the factory or stitching centre can choose how to spend. But if more Fairtrade footballs were sold, this 10% extra would be an even greater sum and could do so much more for the football makers, their families and their communities.

Just imagine, if more schools, sports clubs or even families bought Fairtrade footballs. ‘The Beautiful Game’ could become even more beautiful πŸ™‚

This Sunday, 10th July, you can see Fairtrade footballs in action in another positively life-changing project in Glasgow – The 2016 Homeless World Cup.

So, the next time you need a football, why not make it a Fairtrade Football?

J Peggy Taylor