Wednesday, February 24

A fine afternoon at Nostell Priory

Monday, February 22

Some things are looking up - a bit

An improvement in the weather meant that we could actually get out in the garden last week.

The week started, however with a much needed walk for us and for Ruby. Current restrictions mean that we have to stay local and so we booked a visit to Nostell Priory for Monday afternoon. We stuck to the drier paths in order to cut down on the risk of Ruby needing a bath as she still had her stitches in.

It was a lovely sunny day and I took a few photos which I will post on Wednesday but here are a couple. Some of you may be familiar with the Where's Wally? books. This is my version of Where's Ruby?

Tuesday, saw another trip to the veterinary hospital where, Ruby parted with her stitches. Once she recognised where she was heading, Ruby wasn't at all pleased but it was a different story when she quickly came back out again and headed home. Twenty-four hour surveillance is thankfully over but don't tell Ruby that another vet's visit is booked for early March. This time for her booster inoculation.
Things are starting to take off in the garden. I love to see the first snowdrops. We don't have any special varieties of snowdrop. Ours are unnamed and were just sold as either snowdrops or double snowdrops. Some clumps have bulked up well over the years but it's early days for some that we planted just over a year ago under a newly planted area under a crab apple tree.
It won't be long before the tub of crocuses above are fully opened. We just need a few sunny days - what are the chances? I ought to weed the tub but I don't want to disturb the bulbs. The ones in the open garden aren't as advanced.
Bulbs in the front garden are pushy through, including some dwarf tulips. This is always a sign that the perennials need cutting back to give the bulbs room to shine.

A small bed containing one of our bird baths is situated just outside one of our house windows. We like this to look interesting for as much of the year as possible. In early spring the interest is provided by bulbs. Later it will be planted up with summer bedding. 

Bulbs can often get in the way when planting the bedding plants so last year I plant miniature daffodils in pots which were sunk into the ground. These were removed once flowering was over and the pots were sunk into the ground elsewhere in the garden. On Saturday the pots were replanted in their flowering positions. There are crocuses planted in the same bed and in retrospect I should maybe have planted these in pots too so I could avoid the bulbs when replanting the daffodils.

Just outside of our kitchen door on the patio we have a sarcococca planted in a tub. It was planted there to give us the full benefit of the early scent. The plant is clothed in tiny petal-less flowers and the perfume is lovely but the leaves look very pale which I imagine is chlorosis caused by lack of nutrients so when the weather improves I'll give it a good feed.
On Sunday, we paid a visit to the allotment. As we knew that it would still be too soggy to do much work, the main reason for our visit was to harvest a few things. We gathered together some sprouts, parsnips and leeks. We stayed for a couple of hours and managed to pruned one of the bush roses and cut back a couple of buddleias.

Onto this weeks meals:

Monday, I made a fried rice recipe which used some broccoli, sweet corn and  green beans from the freezer, along with onion and carrot.

On Wednesday, I made a vegetable tagine served with apricot and almond quinoa. This made use of some Crown Prince squash, onion and tomatoes from the freezer. Although I cooked the amount in the recipe there was far too much quinoa. Instead of the individually mentioned spices I used ras el hanout.
On Friday, I made a chicken and vegetable pie based on this recipe. Into this went, carrot, onion, frozen peas and sweetcorn. I didn't used the method described in the recipe to make the filling but more of a casserole method. I also added some herbs de Provence to the filling. I didn't make a full pie but instead just added a puff pastry top. This was served with some braised red cabbage from the freezer.
Sunday, I made a vegetable cottage pie based on this recipe which calls it a shepherd's pie but to my mind a shepherd's pie has to contain lamb. I used carrot and some of the last of our onions and potatoes. We'll soon have to buy more!

By the way we are still waiting for our large seed order from Kings Seeds. They are saying that our order should arrive by the end of this month. Even considering Covid issues, I do think two months wait for an order especially when our money was taken straight away is a poor effort. 

The garden centres have been kept supplied and if we had ordered the same seeds from our local garden centre they would have delivered to us within 5 working days.  As it is we have had to buy some seeds from the garden centre that needed sowing. We can't contact Kings to cancel our order as no-one is manning the phones and emails are ignored. I think that they are prioritising customers who don't qualify for a discount. Orders from retail and those from individual customers were being delivered within 21 days even though our group order is made up of individual orders. It will be interesting to see whether we will in fact receive our full order or whether by now some seeds will have sold out. We are really considering not ordering from them in future and forgoing the discounts.

As always keep safe and well

This week I am linking to Harvest Monday hosted by Dave's Our Happy Acres blog

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Tuesday, February 16

Just a sharp scratch

I’ve no even slightly connected gardening activities to report from last week. No plot visits, no seed or plant deliveries, not even time browsing seed catalogues. I wonder whether visiting some of my favourite gardening blogs counts.

The weather has been bitterly cold with, at times, a bitingly cold wind. We even had another flurry of snow on Wednesday. At one point it looked as though we were in for a significant covering but fortunately that didn’t materialise.  At one point I did wonder whether I was going to be able to make my Covid jab appointment. According to the weekend news, I should receive a letter this week inviting me to book an appointment, as that is when my priority group will start to be given the option of a vaccination. Our area must be ahead of the game as my text came from our doctors last Monday

My appointment was for Thursday morning at a nearby rugby club. I knew what to expect as Martyn had his jab the previous week. For those of you still waiting, I thought  I’d share my experience.

On arriving at the car park we were greeted by yellow jacket clad, masked volunteers who organised the parking and gave me directions . Before arriving at the club door, I was greeted by another volunteer and asked all the usual questions about whether I had any symptoms and I was handed an information sheet. I then headed for the club building.

Outside the door, I joined a socially distanced queue with two others to wait for admittance. The man queuing in front of me told me that he was really excited when he received his message but now he was there he was feeling less happy. Apparently he didn’t like needles.

Once at the front of the queue, another volunteer squirted sanitiser on my hands. I was then told that I could enter the building.  

Just inside the doorway was a table where I had to give my name. I was then given a card showing my name, date of birth and details of the vaccine about to be administered. It was reminiscent of registering for a conference and receiving a name tag.

The room that I entered had about eight tables arranged down its far side each manned by two people.  At the side of the room nearest to the entrance were eight chairs spaced at two metre interval where I had to wait for my turn to receive the injection.

When it was my turn, I was escorted to one of the tables where the card containing my details was checked and I was asked more questions about my health, allergies and some effects that might cause were described. I didn’t suffer any after effects. The vaccine was given, and no it didn’t hurt at all.

I was then given a timer set to fifteen minutes and escorted to another room where about twenty chairs were arranged at two metre intervals. I was directed to a chair and told to wait until my timer pinged. Of course I managed to have a timer that didn’t ping but I kept an eye on it until it reached zero. As pings sounded and people got up to leave, another volunteer disinfected the chairs. 

As I left I was told that I would be contacted for my second dose in 8 - 12 weeks time. Apparently it takes about 21 days for any degree of immunity to be created so my risk of contracting Covid is still as high as it was prior to the vaccination.

The whole operation relied on a large number of volunteers so recognition should be given to them. They were all really pleasant and friendly, even when standing out in the freezing cold. Whilst I was there, a constant stream of people were being vaccinated.

Anyway now I have to wait for my next text before I go through the whole process a second time.

Just off at a bit if a tangent. I wonder why it is OK for so much junk mail and charity bags to keep popping through the letterbox? Is it just me who throws them straight into the bin? Regardless of any potential risk of infection our postal service is struggling to deliver important mail with some people commenting that they haven't received any mail for over a week.
We may not have been gardening but we have been kept on our toes with, Ruby. She became very interested in her stitches so constant surveillance has been necessary. Her stitches come out on Tuesday so we will then be able to relax.

Of course I still managed to do some cooking.
Monday, I made a turkey stew that included some of our leeks, carrot, onion and frozen peas and green beans.
Wednesday, I used the slow cooker to make a vegetable korma using, our potatoes, onion, carrot and frozen peas. It also used red pepper and a courgette that I had to buy. The only problem was that the potatoes broke down during cooking so I think next time I’ll cut down on the stock. Liquid doesn't thicken in the slow cooker so the end product was a bit 'thin' but it tasted better than it looked.

Friday, I used orzo for the first time and made a tomato and chickpea risotto based on this recipe. I added our onion, frozen sweet corn and some spinach. Next time I won’t sauté the orzo as this caused it to stick to the pan and I’m not sure why it was necessary. I’m guessing someone just substituted orzo for rice in a recipe and treated it in the same way.
The orzo made a nice change from the usual rice based risotto so will become a store cupboard regular.
Sunday I made a vegetable and black bean hash which used, our potato, carrot and onion along with red pepper, spinach (I didn't have any kale) and some mushrooms. 
My korma used ground almonds which prompted me to mention another favourite gadget. My stick blender has a grinder attachment so rather than buying both flaked and ground almonds, I just buy flaked and use the grinder to make my own ground almonds. It’s also really useful for blitzing root ginger. I blitz a batch and then freeze portions in an ice cube tray. It will also chop herbs, if they need to be chopped finely and can be used to make a curry paste.

This week the weather is set to be mild so maybe we will get out a little bit more especially as Ruby will have lost her stitches and be OK to go for some walks. Don’t tell her, but due to all the mud, it may mean more shower time too.
As usual keep, safe and well and here’s hoping for those of you who haven’t received the call it will arrive soon.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Monday, February 8

What a week that was

Last week was a pretty hectic week although gardening hardly featured at all. 

The only remotely gardening related occurrence was the delivery of a small parcel of seeds from D T Brown. 

We bought:

Broad bean - Luz de Otono for a late sowing

Climbing French bean - Golden Gate

Lettuce - Headed Mix

Radish - Icicle

Cabbage - Rigoletto

Mooli - April Cross

Tomato - Crimson Crush

Swede - Invitation

Broccoli - Rudolf

I’m really disappointed that our main seed order from Kings Seeds is being seriously delayed. A group of the plot holders on our site have group membership of the NAS which entitles us to discounted seeds from Kings. This year we placed our order as usual  but received notification that due to COVID related issues and higher than expected demand our order could be delayed for up to 8 weeks. It seems retail and individual orders are being processed before allotment group orders. This means that we will not receive our seeds until March and even then some items could be missing. I have expressed my disappointment that orders from long standing allotment customers seem to be at the bottom of their list of priorities.

So if we have not been gardening why have things been so hectic.

Last Wednesday,  Ruby was booked in at the veterinary hospital to be spayed. This was something that we were dreading as she hasn’t had an anaesthetic before and we didn’t know how she would react. To make matters more stressful we had another fall of snow on Tuesday so we were worried that we wouldn’t make the appointment.

Then my sister rang to say she had received a telephone call to arrange for her to have her COVID vaccination on the Saturday.

Fortunately the snow didn’t hang around and Ruby minus her breakfast was duly delivered to the hospital where the hand over was arranged under pandemic protocol conditions. We’d opted to have her surgery done laparoscopically and also for her to have an optional blood test to check whether she was likely to react badly to the anaesthetic. It was then a case of going home to wait for a call. This is always a fraught experience.

After what seemed to be a lifetime we had a call to say everything had gone according to plan and Ruby had come out of the anaesthetic but was still groggy. A pickup appointment was arranged and we could breathe again.

Her fur that was nicely groomed the previous week is now rather patchy but it will soon grow.

Meanwhile, Martyn received a text inviting him to book his Covid jab which he did for the following day.

We picked up Ruby who although still a little wobbly was ecstatic to see us. On arriving hone she was ready for a small meal, the portion size didn’t impress but as advised she had another small meal an hour later. 

The next day she was her normal self. The vet told us to keep her calm which is being a full time job as she is so full of bouncy energy. She thinks our attempts at play are pathetic and can’t understand why we won’t let her have crackerdog or doughnuttting sessions. We also have to keep her constantly in sight to ensure that she does interfere with her stitches. On Sunday we had to send a photo of her stitches for the vet to check that everything was OK and hopefully her stitches will come our next week.

Both vaccination appointments were kept so now I am the only non-vaccinated member of our social bubble. I did, however receive a text today and am booked in for my first jab on Thursday.

Weather wise when it hasn’t been snowing it has been raining which has resulted in flooding. Fortunately we escape flooding at home but some roads around us are flooded.

Despite being on Ruby watch I did manage to do some cooking.

On Monday we had Chicken curry with green beans that incorporated our frozen French beans and onion. I used yoghurt instead of creme fraiche as it was what I had in the fridge and my own spice mix instead of curry powder.

On Wednesday we needed something quick and so had some of our frozen tomato sauce with shop bought aubergine, mozzarella and tomato ravioli.

Thursday I made a stir fry using our onions, frozen peas, and green beans. I also added carrot, peppers and spinach. Instead of adding soy sauce which we don’t use I used sweet chilli sauce. This was served with noodles.

Friday I used the slow cooker to make a vegetable hotpot. Into this went our parsnip, Crown Prince squash, onion, and carrot. There was enough here for two days so on Friday it was served with dumplings and on Saturday with Apache potatoes.

That’s it for this week. With another week of Ruby watch to look forward to wish us luck. 

As always stay safe and healthy.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Thursday, February 4

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2021

Since 2012 we've taken part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, which is held annually at the end of January. For one hour you must count the largest number of a species to be seen at any one time in your chosen spot, it doesn't have to be a garden. This year we chose to carry out our count between 9:00 and 10:00 on Saturday 30 January. This is the hour straight after Martyn has filled bird feeders and put food out on the bird table.  
My window

In the event it turned out to be the dullest morning of the three day period and it took a while before the birds started to appear. Usually birds are on the feeders when we open our curtains and the blackbirds are queuing waiting for Martyn to pop the daily ration of suet pellets onto the birds table. We were beginning to think the birds were up to their usual tricks and giving us a miss until the allotted hour passed.
Martyn's window

Eventually things got going and our count recorded the following number of visitors.  This year's totals are set against those of previous years to give some idea of how things have changed.
Other than in 2016 the total number of birds counted has stayed between thirty and fifty. It should be noted that this number isn't necessarily the total number of bird visitors during the hour. We only ever counted two blue tits present at any one time but this could have been two different pairs each visit. Some birds flock together whereas others prefer to keep their distance so it is likely that larger numbers of the more gregarious birds will be counted at the same time than the more solitary individuals.  We rarely see more than two robins or dunnocks at the same time. When counting blackbirds it is obvious that different individuals are visiting at one time as there may be two males and another time two females.
Click the image for a larger view
Goldfinches usually arrive in a flock and this year they seemed to all descend together. Even with two of us counting it was difficult to be accurate as goldfinches tend to flit about. We were sure of seventeen but there could have been more.
The number of house sparrows counted was down on previous years, however there seemed to be lots at the top of the garden flitting about amongst the dead annuals, probably browsing the seed heads. Again this made them difficult to count so there were likely to be more than the seven counted. Not all of our garden can be viewed from the two windows that we use. They cover the area to the side of the house where the feeders are located.
The solitary wood pigeon wasn't typical as they usually come at least as a pair and often we see four at the same time. 

We would have also have expected more starlings as they usually descend on the bird table in larger numbers but as some often wait in some shrubbery out of view from the windows there may have been some comings and goings. It didn't help that most of the suet pellets had gone by the time the starlings showed up.

One fairly regular species that failed to turn up was the greenfinch. These tend to be heard around the garden more often than they are seen but one or two tend to visit the feeders when the goldfinches turn up. I think they are operating on the idea that there is safety in numbers.

During the hour that we were counting a flock of black headed gulls were wheeling around but as they never land in the garden we assumed that we shouldn't count them. What would you have done?
Once our results are submitted you can compare your results with those nationwide. As the semi doughnut charts produced by the RSPB only show the first ten species, the wren that we spotted doesn't feature.

The range of species shown on the two charts are roughly comparable. One species missing from our chart is the magpie. We do get magpies in the garden. They visit the bird bath situated just outside of our window however, they are rather wary and don't like to come when we are close to the window. Missing from the RSPB chart is the dunnock which is quite a common bird. I wonder whether the omission is because people often think they are sparrows.

Although the range of species is almost the same the relative positions on the chart are quite different. The goldfinch was our top bird by quite a margin whereas it only managed seventh place on the national list.
For those of you unfamilar with the birds that I have mentioned I've added the collage below. The photos weren't taken during the count. Photographing and counting would have been far too taxing.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Wednesday, February 3

January 2021 in pictures