Wednesday, 27 January 2010

laugh of the week goes to... iPad

I've just been reading through my Feministing RSS feeds, and came across the laugh of the week, for sure. Apparently Apple computers has named it's new tablet thingy - iPad.


And the pic they doctored is hilarious, viz:
Feministing asked "Where are the women on Apple's branding team?" Indeed. Nice for sexism to get its own back for a change, I say.

Garden Organic Overseas Support Group - thanks INASP!

After a productive 18-months working at INASP, my contract ended last Wed (20th). As a goodbye gift, they very thoughtfully choose something garden-related that I've always wanted: a years' subscription to the Garden Organic Overseas Organic Support Group. Through this group, Garden Organic supports sustainable agriculture and agroforestry systems in developing countries, so brings together both my love of gardening and my deep attachment to social justice issues, particularly in developing countries. What a lovely group of people the INASP bunch are!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Post-snow lottie: the results

It's been a couple of weeks since I've blogged. I've been finishing up at my job at INASP and busy applying and preparing for interviews and it's rather taken over a bit. However, I did finally get down to the lottie the other day and can now report on what did and didn't survive the heavy snow.

First up is the Broad Beans. For over-wintering, I had planted Aquadulce Claudia, The Sutton and Crimson Flowered. The Crimson Flowered (left) were just a trial. I had only ever planted them in spring before and have found that the blackfly rather likes them and this could inhibit growth. Though the flowers were very pretty, crimson (!), I found if you didn't get to picking the beans quick enough, they would not taste as good (though ok for a Lebanese Fava Bean dish, I think the corriander, garlic and lemon helps). So I didn't know what to expect by planting them in autumn. As you can see, they have done very well and of all my broad beans, these are the perkiest post-snow. Will be interesting to see how they grow into spring, and the onset of the dreaded blackfly in late-spring-early summer.

Aquadulce Claudia (right) is known as THE broad bean to plant for over-wintering. However, as you can see here, they are looking a little sorry for themselves. Some of the beans haven't germinated either, although maybe some got nicked by mice. I'll sow some more come February to fill in the missing plants.

My third type of Broad Bean, was The Sutton (below). This was another experiment. It is said these might be sown in autumn, so I thought I would give it a go. They are looking ok, better than the Aquadulce Claudia, though again some missing plants so will do another sowing in February. Also, it is possible I should have planted them under cloches or cover for autumn sowing. Will try again next autumn and see what happens. I haven't grown The Sutton before, so just going hearsay that they are a bean worth trying. Overall, I'm pleased that the broad beans largely survived the heavy snow. Yes I have to sow a few more plants in Feb, but I tend to find this happens most years when there hasn't been heavy snow, so feel the overall success rate has been good.

Now, onto a failure. Not, I hasten to add, because of the snow, but because of, I suspect, Pigeons. Look at my poor brassicas! If you look carefully, you will see that the tops have been ravaged. During summer and autumn I did have agricultural mesh covering them in a cage to protect them from the darned Large White cabbage butterfly, but then removed it for winter since the butterfly is not around then.

I recall someone at the Lotties expressing suprise that I had taken down the mesh cage at the time, mentioning they might get attacked by pigeons. However, based on previous experience, I wasn't worried. SILLY ME. Previous experience was based on growing brassicas in the back garden in Witney, where we had Merlyn the cat prowling around, stalking pigeons and anything else that moved. I didn't have any problems with pigeons there. But Merlyn doesn't get down to the lottie; really, he needs to do more to earn his keep. Just shows you how contextual growing is. Suffice to say, next year the agricultural mesh cage will stay on!

Returning from the 'dark side', I can happily report that my carrots, d'Eysines Large Half-Long (right) that I have been growing under cover, are doing absolutely fine. Look at the happy bunnies.
More interesting, is the how the lettuce Winter Density has done. On the left are those that were growing completely in the open. They are looking rather sad, but if I'm lucky and we don't get any further snow they may perk up and get growing again. On the right are those that happen to have been sown next to the carrots and therefore got a bit of protection from the cloche covers I put over them (you can see the make-do cloche covers below, just a bit of perspex from a broken mini-greenhouse). These are doing much better and I have confidence they will definitely continue to grow and I should be able to pick lettuce once it warms up again. And what has this taught me? Put my Winter Density under cover and I'll be able to pick lettuce through the winter. Guess what I'll be doing next year...

Finally, still no sign of the garlic. I guess the snow kept them dormant for longer (I think that's what happened, does anyone know if this is right or wrong?), but hoping that the unfreezing will now mean they kick into action. Here is an overview picture of the lottie beds post-snow (plus those 'cloches' I'm using for the carrots). Might look neat, but I happen to know that the weeds have already started growing. Next job.

Monday, 11 January 2010

A gardening book I won't read

I was just wandering around the gardening and cookbook section at Waterstones today (they are next to each other) and out of the corner of my eye I saw the words 'girls' and 'dirty'. Swinging back to take a closer look I came across this: The Girl's Guide to Growing Your Own: How to Grow Fruit and Vegetables Without Getting Your Hands Too Dirty.

huh? You can garden without getting too dirty? Can I just say, if you garden without getting too dirty, you are probably not really gardening.

But what offended me the most was the word 'girls'. When I took a closer look I discovered, as I suspected, that it was aimed to "appeal to 20- and 30-something working women everywhere who have busy lives, but still want to grow their own produce without spending all weekend digging". And whom they insultingly titled 'girls'.

This pisses me off as a gardener and a women, hey, as a woman gardener, if I have to be labelled as such. I prefer just gardener thanks, why should my gender matter? At 42 (ok, I'm not 20-30 but I'm cross on behalf of my younger self), I'm not a fricken girl and am insulted some idiot publisher out there, or even the author, thinks that this might make me think I would pick the book up if they put the word 'girl' in the title. Furthermore, they are clearly aiming at some mythical women who they think like to be called girls and wear short fashionable skirts when gardening. Oh and a heap of other mythical female-gender crap that I'm too annoyed to even be able to express.

Frankly, if there is a women (girl?) out there who thinks the book might be a good idea, then please, DON'T GARDEN. You have to do some digging, you have to get dirty (and not just your hands), and it makes the most sense to wear grotty old clothes where you don't look in the least bit fashionable.

If you are a 20- and 30-something working woman with a busy life (and who isn't) that wants learn about gardening, please read something sensible, I list a couple of books I refer to regularly below for various aspect of gardening. And accept it, ya gonna get dirty.
 * * * * * * * * * *

Grow your own vegetables - Joy Larkam's classic. No pictures, just straight-forward information on growing veggies.

The edible container garden - showing how much you can grow in small spaces. Practical info and presented in an inspiring manner.

Gardening on a Bed System - all you need to know about raised beds and plant rotations.

Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening - useful reference book.

Pests - how to control them - need I say more?

The Vegetable & Herb Expert - not organic, but good for beginners, and not-beginners (I refer to it regularly). Really useful veggie growing info set out so you can easily find the section you want. Please, ignore any reference to chemical though. Don't use chemicals...

RHS Fruit and Vegetable Gardening - again, not organic (one of my bug-bears about the RHS, they still recommend chemicals), but is a useful reference book. Includes pest problems.

How to Store Your Garden Produce - The Key to Self-Sufficiency - um, does what it says on the tin. Straight-forward, anyone can do it.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Gwenfar's Lottie in the snow

I did manage to get down to my lottie today. I was clearly the only one who bothered, as I had pristine smooth snow to walk through (nearly 2ft deep) to get through the gate and to my plot. And here it is:

That's my brussels sprouts poking their heads up. If you look carefully you can see the outline of my raised beds. No idea how the winter lettuce and carrots are doing, will  have to wait for the thaw. It's getting close to sunset now and been snowing on and off all day. However, now the sky is now a clear light blue and a freezing night is expected, so we have been told not to expect a thaw for a few days.

Here is the back garden at Cornwallis Road. The lump in the bottom left is the poor old bamboo even further driven to despair. I did clear the snow off the bird feeders and now have lots of birdies in the back garden. I also put some seed on the ground for ground feeders like blackbirds and finches. It must be hard for them with all this snow and being unable to get to the grass and worms. I wouldn't usually put bird seed on the ground because of Merlyn, and the fact there are a lot of other cats in the neighbourhood. However, cats don't appear to be venturing outside at the moment. The darlings don't like to get their paws wet. Bless. So safe for the birds.

Kevin and I went for a walk at lunchtime. Florence Park is looking stunning in the snow. See this avenue of trees...

I've uploaded more snow pics to my web album if you want to take a look-chook.

My brain hasn't completely gone to snowy mush. I've been catching up on some reading and came across this brilliant article by Gary Younge who discusses how the so-called 'war on terror' has been more about scaring peoople than protecting them. This is his reponse to the recent air plane 'terror threat'. As usual, Gary brings together complex and emotive issues and makes sense of them and a clear and concise way. I recommend his article to you.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

and it snowed..

A couple of hours on from my last post and the snow is really really heavy. In this picture, my usually 6-8ft Bamboo (Phyllostachy Nigra) which is the bottom-left to middle section of the photo, has been crushed under the weight of the snow.

The next photo is from upstairs out of the study window.
The colours are amazing - it really is this kind of light and at 9:30pm. I'm still in awe how quiet snow is. It's is really very peaceful. Well, I guess if you can enjoy it from home and don't have to try and get around it in transport! The really large trees at the back are actually in Florence Park, which is the lovely park behind my house.

After 12 years in the UK I still am delighted every time it snows. It still feels like a treat. Give me this any day to 35 degrees in Melbourne. I'll take English winter every time.

However, as you can see from the bird feeders below, it must be hard on the birdies. I'll have to clear them off in the morning to make it easier for the poor creatures to get some food and water.
I'm hoping to get down to the Lottie tomorrow to see how it is coping with all this snow. I wonder if the winter lettuce is strong enough to survive this?

and finally it snowed...

The weather people have been promising for days and days, but FINALLY we got the heavy snow that Kevin and I have been waiting for. Here is the back garden this evening as the snow was falling.

Hoping it won't have disappeared by tomorrow morning so we get to go and play.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

A cat's doona

We bought a new doona* and barely got it on the bed before Merlyn claimed it as his.

*Doona is the Aussie word for Duvet. I prefer Doona, it sounds snug and warm. Duvet sounds like Bidet, and well, I don't want to go there...

What I did over the winter break

Well it's 2010 - happy new year to you! I hope you enjoyed a good winter (or summer) break. As someone who cannot stand Xmas (or sit Xmas either), I choose to view the forced holidays as a time for a quiet winter break. A time to veg about watching bad television and films, reading good books, and with some luck, catching up with a few friends. And that's pretty much what I managed. However, I also managed to include a bad chest/head cold that stayed with me throughout the winter break. ugh! Kevin had it even worse, starting before the holidays and carrying on the whole way through, so double-ugh! for him.

First up was a visit from Kate & Simon and their two boys, Sam and Alexander from Bonn. We hadn't met Alexander before, so it was lovely to meet him. And what a cheery little boy he is.

Simon, Kate & Alexander

And here is young Sam, enjoying Shaun the Sheep, the only child-friendly item I think in our whole house!

With Sam being busy giggling at Shaun's antics the adults managed to catch up a bit and eat brownies.

About this time Kevin's cold hit and the poor boy was home sickly. I was fine though and worked up until 24th Dec, then, BUGGER, I got the cold too. I know partners should share, but you don't have to share everything. Really.

So the next few days were very quiet. The days were beautiful, with lovely cold English sunny winter days, and we couldn't bear being inside even though we were feeling quite crap.  Kevin's mum, Audrey, had left us her car whilst she was over in Denmark visiting Tamsin (daughter) and Troels (Tamsin's partner), so though we were feeling cruddy, we decided to take a short drive through the Chilterns, south of Oxford. It had been snowing a few days before, and the hills were still covered, snow sparkling in the sun.

I managed to capture the late afternoon sun in a photo at Ewelme (pron. u-elm).

I love England in winter. In many ways I think it is when England's gentle beauty shines through best. Yes, it can rain and we do get yucky grey days for days on end. But I often think all the who-ha about the crap English winter is an exaggeration. Much of winter can be cold crisp days with blue skies, perfect for walking through the countryside, or even in city parks. You don't get hot and bothered like summer, and there is always a lovely warm pub somewhere along the way. And in England, it is ok to ask for a cup of tea in a pub. You don't get laughed at for requesting tea like you do in Oz pubs! So walking in the sun through gentle countryside with friends/loved ones, with a friendly publican welcoming you with a hot cuppa. What else could you want?

We also visited the lottie to see how it coped with the recent snow and icy days. Nice to see that even all that didn't kill off my winter lettuce 'winter density', that my spinach and chard were looking good, many more of my broad beans had come up. No sign of the garlic yet, though I'm not really expecting to see any shoots until mid-Jan or so. The late carrots I sowed, d'Eysines Large Half-Long, were doing well under the make-do 'cloche' I put up.

I used some perspex from an old broken mini-greenhouse we found when we moved into Cornwallis Road and it has done the job nicely.They are looking healthy, have plenty of air but not getting covered by snow and ice, and so far I cannot see any slug damage. I'm growing these ones specifically to save the seed from; my first attempt at saving carrot seeds. Bit tricker than peas and beans as you need to make sure they are pollinated, but not cross-pollinated by other carrot varieties, including wild carrot 'Queen Anne's Lace' which flowers at the same time. I've found Carrot - d'Eysines Large Half-Long to be a very reliable variety, good germination and good tasting, and Real Seeds, who I got them from, don't have much seed at the moment. I met Ben from Real Seeds at the Oxford seed saving event and he inspired me to have a go at saving the seeds, so hence this attempt.

We then had a couple of more days at home watching bad films, such as the original Day of the Triffids. Kevin and I thought it would be fun to watch again, however, going back to some films you loved when younger isn't always a good idea. It made us realise how badly acted, sexist, and silly, it was. Basically, plants get big, start eating humans, lots of silly women screaming (I bet they were hired just for their ability to scream) and being rescued by brawny men who saved them from the big bad plant. I forgot early sci-fi was so sexist. sigh.We did also watch some good old films to though, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner still a delight to view, and still quite relevant.

Then, with hacking coughs and a bad case of sniffless (sniffles with extra sniff), we ventured out once again, this time to Stow-on-the-Wold with Jackie, who was also starting to get a cold. 'Wold' comes from Old English, 'wald' meaning "high ground cleared of forest" (so says my English Place-Names book). And yes, Stow is on top of a very big hill. A very pretty Cotswold town with a large number of tea shops, which of course one is obliged to enter and partake of the victuals therein. YUM. We might have felt unwell, but be buggered if we were going to miss out on cake. Marie Antoinette was on to something...

Speaking of cake, I managed to do a bit more baking. My first attempt at Victoria Sponge cake, with clotted cream and damson jam in the middle. And being from my gluten-free veggie cake book where I got the brownie recipe, this one had a vegetable in it too. Can you guess what it might be? (ans. at bottom)

The 'lucky' recipients of the latest baking attempt was Mau & Hetan, who we visited in London on 30th Jan, and got to meet their lovely new daughter, Keya, who was born just a few days before my birthday. What a cutie-patootie huh!

She is kicking with her leggies very fast, obviously keen to get going in the world.

We managed to sleep through the new year. We were invited to Jenny & Mark's (lottie buddy) but were both feeling so utterly crapola we didn't have the energy to stay up that late. How pathetic.

Mau & Hetan have loaned us the first 3 seasons of The Wire, and you can probably guess what we spent out last few days of holidays doing... Apart from a slight excess of swearing (even for me, and I swear a lot), it is a brilliant show. I've heard so many people talk about it, so great to finally see it. I don't like many US detective/cop shows, other than Bones, as they don't usually have the subtlety, dialogue and good story as British ones (ie. Inspector Morse, Lewis, Prime Suspect, Taggart -a fave, love those accents!), but I have to say that I'm definitely a fan of The Wire.

So, we are starting the new year getting well, relaxing and enjoying some bright sunny winter days. Back to work tomorrow, my last three weeks at INASP. I hope you enjoyed a good winter break and are enjoying a good start to 2010. Happy New Year.

* * * * *
Answer to mystery vegetable in the Victoria Sponge: potato. I used 'Stemster', one of my absolute favourite varieties. Reliable, large potatoes, high yielding, and good all-rounder (ie. baking, frying, mashing etc). The cake turned out lovely and moist, and pretty light. Just what a sponge cake should be. Going to be baking that again soon.