The Phantom Tomato Bug…?

I have been away quite a bit recently so haven’t bee able to update on here as much as I would like but here a few photos of the current growth spurts…

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But what on earth is going on here?!

marigoldMy poor marigolds were planted as a sacrificial tomato protector, but they seem to have some sort of white bug infestation…

I’m going to go and have a good google and see if I can find out what these are. Anyone else have any ideas?

The Goose Roost Sprung A Leek!

I am so busy over the next few weeks that I thought I would spend my Sunday dong some ab-muscle-blasting pulling up some of the weeds that have sprung up on the plot. That’s not quite all that happened though…

I am very pleased with the haul so far this year. The toms were ripening, the beans swelling, and look!

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I am not entirely sure what it is, as it is just labelled “winter squash”. I think I may have picked it a bit early but I was too excited and it wasn’t getting any bigger so I will try roasting it later in the week.

I met a lovely old gentleman who had some leek plants for sale, and spent a long time speaking to him about the best way of growing them and also about what else I can do around the plot. He was so knowledgeable and even gave me his email address so that I can run by him any queries I may have.

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I also got a free load of winter brassicas… he was so adorable – like a little garden Yoda. 

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I am going to make up my plot plan for winter 2018/spring 2019 one evening this week and send it across to him for approval, but apparently my first job is to get my Christmas Spuds in! That’s going to be Wednesdays job I reckon!

He gave me a little factsheet, beautifully handwritten with instructions on how to plant my leeks up, so I set to work.

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It was one of the hottest days of the year, but he said I needed to dig a trench so dig a trench I did. I did not, however, bank on him giving me almost double to amount of leeks he said he would, resulting in a total of 3 trenches and some spare baby leeks. I was sweating buckets and about keeled over from the work but I got there… and dug up some brambles whilst I was at it!

37670607_497836490660797_8529974434776219648_nI planted my little baby leeks the length of my dibber (broken wooden mallet!) apart, placed them in the holes and the watered them in. No firming or anything as apparently that how you get mud in your dinner!

So rather than just stop there, I thought I had better get the brassicas in…

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Then the 3 different types of kale…

 

Then thinned my apples and watered everything…

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Then picked some cucumbers from the triffids in the greenhouse….

By which time it was 8.30pm and I had not eaten since breakfast! Oh how time flies when having a ball!

My nails no longer look so pretty though and I am at a wedding over the weekend so I went home to scrub myself as clean as possible with a stiff brush and some Swarfega!

Summertime update

Spent a lovely few hours down the plot with MrT this evening.

Its been super busy recently with our friends’ wedding coming up but thought i would show you all how its going!

Starting with the sunflowers for the top table display

My lemon cucumbers are looking fab…

And make great additions to drinks!

The greenhouse is starting to look like a forest

And the courgettes have gone from tiny to huge in a few days

The pumpkins are like triffids in the sun

But the onions are as big as they are going to get i think

I plaited them up so that i could hang them to dry in the sun without the Rottie Beasts eating them all!

Lots of planting over the next few weeks to try and get the winter greens in, so i will keep you all in the loop when i can.

So proud of 2018 so far, even if i have spent most of the time and effort working “behind the seens” on the bramble control situation!

Think i deserve that cider…

England may have won 6-1, but I was on the bench

I’ve got myself a lawn, but not a bench to put on it…

I did have a pallet though!

So I made one from the other;

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First up, find yourself a pallet that you would not mind sitting on. Nobody wants splinters in the bum so a new one would be best. Even better still if it is treated already as it saves you a job.

Gather up your tools, a brew and a length of timber for the legs.

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Measure how big you want the seat, and the remainder will be the back rest. I was really technical about this… I sat on the pallet until it felt right.

The saw the pallet in the right spot, across the middle of two cross-beams.

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Then, make it look like a seat! Lots of screws in the bottom and a few through the sides and hopefully the seat shouldn’t fall off when you plonk down after a long days work.

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Use some proper screws!! Nothing too short that will rip out as soon as the weather turns.

Then decide how long you want your legs and cut the wood. I did two pieces at the right length, and two slightly longer so that I could have an arm rest.

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Then guess what, screw them on too.

 

You know how a bench should look, so I hope i don’t have to explain this part, but if I do let me know and ill send you my plans! It all depends on how long your legs are!

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Three screws in each leg should hold it.

Next up, measure the distance between the two legs as well as the length you would like the arm rests to be and cut the wood appropriately.

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This will help keep the bench square as well as stopping the legs from falling out from under you when you sit down like a bad jenga tower.

Screw ‘um in.

36003277_471147356663044_5660307824253599744_n ^Bench^ !

I think it looks pretty good for something done on a wing and a prayer to solve my seating problem. I don’t think my 20+ year old deck chairs will last much longer so it’s just in time!

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I’ve just got to get MrT to mow the lawn now and it’ll be ready for summer BBQ’s and picnics!

 

What do you call a chicken with a piece of lettuce in it’s eye? A: Chicken Caeser Salad

Chickens eat everything.

Except, apparently, their own food when it has touched the floor.

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Mine drop food EVERYWHERE and with us having the abandoned plot next to us, rodents are eating more than they do when they’ve dropped it everywhere.

They were being fed using pet-shop feeders similar to the one below. They are great if you have a few hens and they are store inside the coop, but mine walked all over them and they ended up full of straw and chicken poo!

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So I decided I needed to find a way of being able to securely store enough food for my hens without the pests or rain getting to it. I also needed to be able to allow the chickens to eat but not drop food everywhere.

I did an internet search and found many versions of the same thing – PVC pipe feeders.

Many people used clear plastic tubs like those used to store things in the attic with pvc elbows glued in like this one here – http://blog.mypetchicken.com/2015/10/05/diy-no-waste-feeder/

I wanted something on a larger scale though for my 12 hens in the hope that I may be able to use a whole bag of feed at a time and reduce the tips to the storage shed.

So I got myself a big plastic water butt on a free site. It came with a lid, but also had taps on the bottom so I will remove these and plug up the holes… or maybe just leave them against the fence as a good “attachment point” to stop it falling over.
I also went to Screwfix and got some 55mm PVC elbows when I went to sort out my automatic drinker system. I had hoped for larger sized ones but apparently they are hard to come by at regular shops! I also saved some old thick card and shaped it in to a cone to direct the feed pellets.
Tool wise I needed a 60mm hole bore for MrT’s drill, and squishy tube of sealant. Job done.

It was a pretty simple task really. Lay out where you would like the openings and mark them, then drill the holes. I did mine all around the edge, but you can always use one or two on each side if it will sit in a corner. Make sure they are high enough up that you chickens don’t have to bend too much, but also low enough that they can peck at the food after the 90 degree bend.

Put your arm inside the barrel and poke the elbows through from the inside, leaving about 1.5cm outside the barrel. This will give the food protection from rain running down the barrel if I have to move it outside at any point.

Then use the sealant to secure the pipe from the inside and let this set. Then do the same on the outside! You can try and do them both at the same time but if you knock the pipe at any point you’ll end up with it everywhere. Not a good look.

Then use the thick cardboard to make a cone that fits in the middle of you barrel to direct the food towards the pipes. This isn’t desperately needed as the weight of the food above will push enough of it down, but it means that you don’t end up with food sat in the middle of the barrel between all of the pipes which goes stale having not been eaten.

Et, Voila!

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It takes a while for the girls to figure out that food is inside that little hole, but they get there eventually!

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No more messy floors and having to fill up tiny feeders in the shed every day…

Bliss.

Cluckingham Place gets new plumbing

I love my chickens, I really do, but they eat and drink you out of house and home.

Every day I am down there filling up the food and water troughs (twice in the summer!) and every day I end up covered in chicken poo and overspray from the enthusiastic hose attachment.

I needed to find a better way of doing things.

I searched everywhere online for different ways of watering my chickens using rainwater collected from their coop, and nowhere could I find a suitable solution.

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I looked in to using chicken nipples or drinkers, but these are either very expensive (over £5 each on Ebay!) or have very bad longevity reviews. Plus my chickens are stupid. They would NEVER figure out those little knobly bits held water.

I then looked in to a system which looked perfect. It was a tupperware tub bolted on to a tank with a bit of pipe. Hydrodynamics kept it from overflowing. However these only seemed to work with catering buckets and HAD to be airtight. Plus I don’t think it would work with such a large container as air is too stretch-able and squash-able for a good enough vacuum to be created. Overflowing and losing all the water is not good when watering 12 hens daily.

There are a few specialist products out there too; cups, drinkers, pipes, bowls… however all of these had one issue – EXPENSE.

Everything had to be cheap.

So I did some creative thinking and while I was in the bathroom one evening (TMI I know!) I had a brainwave.

I need my system to run like the toilet. A big tank full of water supplying a little bowl of water which turns off without input from opposable thumbs.

So I went to Screwfix – leading supplier of all things toilet.

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Here I picked up some PTFE tape (12 rolls for £4!), a toilet float valve, some rubber washers to fit the float and 6 55mm PVC 90degree elbows (for my next project – operation food waste). I also found a large blue barrel on Gumtree going for free. The final thing I needed was a tub that could fit the float in, but wasn’t too big for the chickens to drink from and would hopefully not fill with poo and shavings (a girl can dream).

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We have got an IBC that MrT helped me to collect, so if this goes well I will make another one. My hens will never have to worry about being a bit parched. As long as it doesn’t freeze but I will come to that in the autumn…

I could find nothing similar on the internet before so hopefully this will make sense, but if not feel free to message me you questions!

It is environmentally friendly, uses less water, wastes less time and also feeds my constant need to ‘upcycle’ and re-use

Blue Barrel

My first step was to clean out the old tank. From the smell of it (and experience of being a Chef Widow) this barrel used to contain some sort of veg oil. This is edible so it isn’t too big of a deal, but oil can quickly go gross so best to clean it now. The amount of times I have washed this from MrT’s work clothes has taught me that the best way of getting this out is the good old fashioned way.

  1. Fill the barrel with warmish water. I used a hose from the outside tap mixed with a couple of kettles just boiled!
  2. Add a really CHEAP dish soap. The expensive “moisturising” ones are rubbish for this. The good old 25 ones that make your hands feel like stones are perfect.
  3. Screw the tops on the barrel.
  4. Roll it on its side up and down the driveway for a few minutes. Good way of finding leaks too.
  5. Avoid stares from confused neighbours.
  6. Tip content of barrel away (safely!!).
  7. Stop dogs from playing in oily bubbles.
  8. Repeat.
  9. Rinse with clean cool water.

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I then drilled a hole large enough for the threads of my float valve, but not so large that it would flap about and let water leak. 20mm did it for me.

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I also did the same thing in the tub that the chickens will drink from. Plastic can be quite hard to cut through, so it is worth drilling a pilot hole and then allowing the cutter to spin and melt the plastic slightly as it cuts. Don’t force it, you’ll split the drum or stab yourself with flying plastic/drill bit. And definitely don’t touch it straight away.

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Remember physics; Friction=Hot

When (if!) I do this with the IBC, I will add some PVC connecting pipe between the tank and the float, just simply because the IBC has a tap already installed which I will use as an emergency cutoff for cleaning and if the valve fails.

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My barrel conveniently had a screw cap at the top which was the perfect size for a click-on hose adaptor, so I added this on there for when the rains don’t come (HA! We live in the UK, so not likely!). On the other side will be my downpipe for the guttering when i have fitted it, but that will be a weekend job so ill be hose-pipe filled for now.

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Next up, I screwed the float valve in to the drum. There is a nut to use on the inside, but there was no way i was getting my hand in that barrel so I just screwed it in and will use sealant to keep it watertight. Then unscrew it again when you realise you forgot the water container. I was very careful this whole time not to damage the threads but also not to strip the hole I had just drilled. This would hopefully add some extra water resistance.

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Then put it all together and pray.

The order is this; Nut (if you can get it in there), washer, barrel, washer, tub, washer, float valve. The float valve sits inside the tub where the chickens will drink. Use the float valve screw to wedge all of these parts together like a big BLT.

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Add some water and its time to test! Maybe put waterproof shoes on for this and don’t do it on your kitchen floor – you know, just in case.

The way it SHOULD work is that when the water flows out of the barrel and in to the tub the float rises to close the valve and shuts off the water at the correct level. When the chickens drink and lower the level the valve opens again.

You may need to have a play around to try and get the water level just right. Mine is on its lowest setting, and i will cut the plastic tub into a more “easy to drink from” shape when i know it is all working properly.

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Remember that small chicks can and WILL get in the water and drown, so this should not be used for young babies. This is for my ExBatt hens for laying (about 2 years old) so if they fall in it is because they are thick.

Hopefully this will save me getting soggy shoes and poo covered hands, as well as keeping my hens hydrated in the summer months!

They love it!

I will let you know in winter how it fares with freezing, but I have a feeling that I may need to resort to some sort of heating mechanism or just fill them up daily, especially if using pipes!

Someone has Bean and Pea’ed on my plot!

This week we desperately needed to get our beans and peas in or else we would have nothing to munch on when summer comes… Not ideal!

So I carried on digging up nettles, bindweed and brambles and hoped to high heaven that it was making this better.

Next year I am trying no-dig.
My back hurts.

Last year MrFlatcap showed me how to make a bean tipi, so this year I decided that 3 towers of green beans might just keep MrT happy for a week or two!

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Mid-build!

The hardest part of this whole day was stringing the poles together without letting go of one and smacking myself in the nose. That happened a lot.

I deliberately put them up by my new lawn area because there is a dipped area by the slabs which will be easy to get through to weed. It also means we can have a bit of shade for the dogs when the sun finally comes back again.

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Please excuse the mess!

Beans will curl around and grow up one single pole, whereas the peas are a little more fussy.

For these we decided to build a wall. It needs a little more support when I manage to dig out the last of the bamboo canes, but until they grow and get heavy this will be ok.

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Pea Wall 

The wall consists of three canes at either end in a pyramid, with two canes set a regular intervals down the row to hold the strings taught.

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Pea wall!

The you just get to go crazy with the ball of string. MrT cannot abide the feel of twine. It sends him all squiffy and his face makes an odd expression… he’s like a little kid sucking on a lemon!

That meant that the stringing up was left to me so that’s why it isn’t as beautiful as it could have been.

I cant wait for my little seeds to start growing and the beautiful flowers to appear. I often think that peas and beans are at their most beautiful when those pretty flowers are out. As much as I love eating the peas as I wander around the plot, I do wish that the flowers would last a little bit longer!

Now it is just a case of nicking one of MrT’s beers to stop those slugs from munching my shoots… little slimy buggars…

Ready for All Hallows Eve already…

Today was a pretty easy day at the allotment. I laid out some weed membrane on one of the more “weed-free” areas of the plot and have planted my pumpkins and courgettes through it.

My soil is still pretty good after the man a few years back manured it and then left. At the end of this year i will cover the whole bed, but for now I have used some of my compost under the roots and am hoping that these will do ok!

I didn’t add any fertiliser last year and we did well with the marrows so hopefully this year we will be ok too.

We have got 2 Turks Turban, 1 Winter Squash of unknown origin and 2 courgettes (1 green 1 golden). My friend also has a massive amount of white pumpkins she has said I can grow here, so hopefully they will be ready just in time for the wedding! They would be great to add to the decor!

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All planted up

The pumpkins and squash can spread over 6 feet so are planted pretty far apart at the moment but hopefully this space will be taken up soon.

Weed membrane can be a lovely home for slugs, but hopefully my traps and the abundance of frogs will help keep the numbers down. They are just part of the allotment life so I am not wanting rid completely!

Fingers crossed we get another of these –

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Wider than my leg!

Busy Week, With Not Enough Time!

I’ve been neglecting my allotment these last few days/week… poor thing!

My onions desperately need hoeing which will be tonight job, and I still need to get all of the weeds removed from my final bed to get some peas, beans and pumpkins in!

So this week will be a manic one I am sure – it’s all made better when I found this though;

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They are going red!!

So I only managed to get down there for a few hours on Saturday.

I pulled up a few weeds, but because the ground was so dry it was like stone!

So instead I decided to make my mini flower bed for Rachel’s Sunflowers. It is right in front of my greenhouse annex so will be a lovely view when they grow!

I used some of the old roof tiles we dug up from around the plot to edge it. The edge is pretty tall, but that means that i can strim the grass without murdering the sunflowers in high season.

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All in!

The grass still needs another layer of seeds adding as the birds have had a field day, but since I have now stopped them getting to the chicken food and its been a long winter, I thought I would be kind to them.

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Sunflowers in!

I used the tops of the milk bottles from MrT’s strawberry wall as name plates for the different sunflower types. Recycling at its best!

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Give them all a good water

These will all get some sticks put in over the weekend, but for now I am letting them recover a bit.

It does look like the slugs are out in force though so a beer trap will soon be installed… bloody things. I picked a pot full later in the evening and the chickens thought it was Christmas!

Now just to try and keep on top of everything…

 

Sunday Sunshine

Morning!

We have had a lovely but very busy weekend organising wedding stuff the past few days, including spending a few hours having a fabulous drive down to the wedding venue in Shrewsbury. I can’t wait, it all seems very real!

In return for my wedding organising day, I went with MrT to a new motorbike shop so he was pretty pleased too.

When we got in it was still lovely weather so we popped down to the lottie for a bit… glad we did because look what my neighbour left me!

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So many toms!

So while MrT chopped the tops off some milk bottles for me, I dug up my over-wintered strawberry plants from the greenhouse.

He potted these up in to the new milk-bottle-homes and I started planting my toms!

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More toms, less space!

I was told last year that my planting layout wasn’t very economical, so I am following the advice in this years planting. Apparently if you place your tomatoes in a staggered formation, you can fit more in a smaller space and still get enough air circulation to avoid blight! Lets give it a go!

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So Leafy!

Now you see all those fluffy bits on the greyish area on the bottom of the stem? They turn in to roots! So I take off the seed leaves and stem (those funny shaped ones at the bottom) and the next set of leaves up.

Also, you notice those shoots appearing from the tomatoes ‘elbows’? Remove those whenever they appear, no matter how old the plant. They sap all of the nutrients away from the main stem and fruit trusses and make your crop smaller (apparently!).

 

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This is how it should now look!

Now dig a hole big enough to cover the roots and that greyish area of stem.

When plating tomatoes, its good to add a bit of fertiliser beforehand. Lots of people use eggs and banana skins, but I just put in some fungi powder and crunched up egg shells.

Now is also the time to put in your tomato collars if you use them. I haven’t invested in any yet but I have heard good things! They make watering easier and help the fruits avoid splitting.

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All in!

By the time you have finished, your plants will look about half the height that they did, but don’t worry. They will have a huge root ball now and grow much better.

Water them in really well, but don’t get it on the leaves. Water on the leaves makes them burn and go spotty. It doesn’t harm the plant in small areas, but it can wilt them quite badly!

Don’t they look fab!?

So while I was doing that MrT had watered all of my onions, garlic and spuds, replaced all of my weedguard, fed my chickens and quail and made this stunning bit of wall art

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Strawberry wall!

Isn’t he a good egg?!

We had a lot of trouble with bunnies and slugs eating my fruit last year before they were ripe, so hopefully this will help avoid that. It also helps with recycling all of that dreaded plastic! Just make sure you poke some drainage holes!

Now just to repaint the wall and it’ll look ace.

I am so proud of him
It’s still not worth a new motorbike though…
Maybe when he has built my fence!