Catch up time

IMAG2414.jpgAbove, the new Brown Turkey Fig tree I planted. I’ve sunk a cube of old paving slabs with a broken rubble base, so the roots will be restricted. This is a practice used to encourage fruiting rather than fresh growth. The natural habit of the plant is to keep spreading until it reaches an obstruction, then to fruit in order to send a new generation to grow further afield. By artificially introducing that obstruction we can take advantage of the fruit.

Below, our back garden at home before the new fencing.IMAG2477.jpg

This is the state of our garden at the moment,or more accurately,this morning. The reason I highlighted it is that we are finally getting new fencing erected.

As anyone who has done it knows, it’s not cheap but it’s money well invested. We are only having one side and the bottom fitted out, including a new locking gate, as our landlord,the local housing association, have promised to replace the other side. That won’t happen until June at the earliest but it’ll save us a bit of money.


Nice new fencing!

The old fencing was a mish mash of various sized panels in differing states of repair. This gave us an unparalleled and unwanted view of our neighbours weeds. The new, stronger and taller panels have blocked that view entirely.

This view


As you can see, a great contribution to urban wild flowers perhaps but not something I really want creeping into my yard, especially the healthy species of Bindweed and Bramble!


I apologize for any alarm or distress caused by the very pinnacle of Victorian foul language, but I have been very much about the rhubarb cultivation today.

I will also apologize in advance for the simple fact that none of the pictures used to illustrate are mine. As much as I like to use my own materials, it was too blooming cold to fiddle with a touch screen today.


Rhubarb Crown

The first image here is of a crowded rhubarb crown. Note the number of buds in a small area. The idea here is to lift the crown, preferably when it is dormant and showing no sign of foliage or growth, and split the mass , leaving individual or pairs of buds, to be replanted with plenty of space to develop.

The benefits are simple: More root space means less competition for food and water, more room to swell and store moisture and a better chance to produce long, succulent stems for the table. Crowded crowns struggle to gather enough food or water for each growth point to successfully produce, leaving an eventual failing plant, and ,ultimately ,death.

By splitting the buds, each plant also has the opportunity to propagate and create more off shoots and new buds. It’s a very old and successful way to propagate rhubarb. Effectively, split plants like this are rooted cuttings,with both top and bottom growth already in place.

As the roots are storage roots, it is essential to get as much root as possible with each bud, to ensure food to keep the new plant growing until it has established, normally at least one full season.

One tip is to lift the whole parent crown during winter, leaving it on top the soil and exposed to frosts before splitting and replanting. The cold somehow helps the roots to develop its storage properties.

Split rhubarb buds

The pictures used actually show more growth than I would go for. The yellow leaf tips showing growth has already begun.

I managed to split my crown into 5 separate lumps, some with 2 or more small buds. The original old bud had long since died off and was a mass of dry leafy material, which I discarded.

As mentioned, these new growths will require time to establish before we can start taking stems from them. As the stems themselves, unlike true fruits, are productive parts of the plant, removing too many or too early can deplete the energy of the plant, so leaving a good recovery time is crucial. The golden rule is , if in doubt, leave well alone. It is safer to take too little than too much. This applies to rhubarb all year round.

Always feed with as much well rotted manure or/and compost as you can find. Rhubarb is a hungry plant and is native to wetlands, bogs and pond sides, so mulching and heavy watering are all beneficial.

I’m a big fan or this particular pseudo fruit, so it’s no suprise that I don’t intend to be without it for the year while these new transplants recover. I had two separate crowns, the crowded older one which has been hacked, chopped, sliced and divided as such, and the newer , more productive and much less crowded one. This will be my source of crumble filling until the others can fill my trug. Fear not, crumbles will continue!

So long and so little..

Well, according to the statistics, it’s been three years since my last post. That sounds worryingly like a confession.

I very much doubt anyone is eagerly waiting for the next pos, but I think I need to get back to writing in some sort of sense.

It’s cathartic in a way, putting things down ,albeit not on paper, but in a similar way just getting it all out there. I haven’t had any life changing epiphany or realisations of any type, but I do miss writing.

Proper writing. Not tweeting, facebooking,tumbling or whatever. I do all that but it’s not writing as such. It’s commenting at best.

Writing, long, edited and carefully considered pages, articles more than a few sentences long.proper writing.

I’ve written articles before, blogged for a while and even published a story book for young adults. A thin thing but done with pride. It’s out of distribution at the moment but it was a box ticked for me.

I’d recommend it to anyone.

Anyway, I digress.

I intend to get back to using this blog, maximising it’s potential and generally giving any such followers or casual viewers something worth clicking on.

Firstly, a recap.

In those intervening three years I gained a granddaughter, changed jobs twice and put on a bit more around the waist. But i haven’t written much. Nothing really. I’ve had ideas, plans and intentions but nothing made it to the keyboard.

That will change.

Drafts may build up but they will contain the thoughts and potential that would have previously withered and died. Some will rise up and become posts, others will exist in the limbo of the drafts file.

As a guide, I will continue my account of my gardening and growing , garden and allotment. My beer travels and some parts of my family and other relationships that I feel are suitable for public critique.

So, until that happens, watch this space!




It is time for a tale of Apples and Monks, Budgies and Bees and F1!

O.K., let’s not get too confused. I can explain everything, well, almost everything. The thing with the socks? I have no idea about that.

It all began long ago, no, recently but long ago is a better start, anyway, I was walking home from work, chomping on a nice juicy apple as I had missed my afternoon/second break at work and was finishing my snack on my way home. I like a nice juicy crisp apple, not too fluffy and not too dry. I like a lot of fruit but this story doesn’t work with bananas for reasons I won’t explore right now.

Just ask me later.

Anyway, apples. I noticed the core of said delicious fruit, (I don’t think it was a Delicious variety, just tasty), contained what appeared at first to be small specks of dust, rather than pips. Now, my reaction was initially that there had been a fault in the germination or growth of this particular specimen but then I thought again. A lack of viable seed means absolutely nothing for an apple grower. Had I wanted to save a seed from this wonderfully, enticing, (o.k. I’ll stop) this apple,to sow and possibly grow my own from, I would have been wasting my time.


Not because of the size of this seed, nor the quality but simply this.

Apples do not grow true from seed.

Let me explain. Plants grown from seed carry the genetic make up from their parents. As with anything grown via the process of parental crossing. Fertilization. The mixing of genes to produce an offspring.

When this happens, in food growing, we look for plants that will produce what the parent gave us. Size, flavour, colour, vigour and many other positive attributes.

It is the sharing of these attributes and the passing on from generation to generation that allows us to reliably produce useful crops, whether on a small scale at an allotment or in a window box to the vast plains of the american landscape.

I found out about this when I was a single man but on the very cusp of becoming a married one. I had been given two budgies as pets to keep me company while living in my flat until my soon to be wife could join me. Sentimental but fun. These two, originally named Jake and Earl, soon became Jake and Pearl after I decided to research a little about the birds and I discovered there is a subtle way of sexing the birds.

The fleshy bit above the beak, containing the holes for the nostrils, is called the Cere. This will differ in colour and flatness according to the sex and age of the bird.

There you go. You’ve learnt something.

However, I was not eating a budgie, but an apple. Budgie eating is frowned upon even after a hard day. Besides which, they aren’t anywhere near as juicy.


All this was discovered or at least expanded on to a greater degree by an Augustinian Monk, Johann Gregor Mendel. He crossed a few different pea plants, wrinkled seeded and round , yellow and green. He discovered that the ensuing plants gave varying results, differing in traits from their parents, even when like featured plants were bred. This tied in with my discovery of colours in budgies. Two blue feathered parents wouldn’t necessarily produce blue offspring. This is due to dominant and recessive genes. The same occurs in humans with things such as eye colour. A blue eyed person may have a dominant blue eye gene but a recessive green gene. If they breed with another blue dominant green recessive, they could find the green gene becomes more dominant. A blue dominant/brown recessive and a green dominant/brown recessive will probably have brown eyed children, because the brown gene is present in both parents.

Back to Peas. Mendel found that by careful selective crossing of plants, he could ‘fix’ a trait, such as wrinkled seed. This meant that this plant would always produce a particular feature from that batch of seed. A predictability of sorts. This is known as F1 seed. These seeds generally produce a uniform result, but without the guarantee of doing the same in the next generation. Plant A crossed with Plant B would always produce C, but Plant C would produce different offspring. Prolonged breeding fixed a reliable result for plants though and this led to the seeds we buy now.

If you purchase a Parsnip variety described as Long and Tender, for example, it will produce, under ideal conditions, long and tender roots. You shouldn’t get tough or stumpy roots. Seed suppliers can reliably produce many more years of the same seeds with this type of seed, but an F1 seed must be produced by carefully crossing the right parents each time, thus making them an expensive option.

So, why not the same with apples?

Apples are a little bit..well.. sexy.

Yes, sexy. Rampant for want of a better word. Most need at least two partners to pollinate them. Many small gardens contain crab apples, which may not themselves seem appetising but are very good pollinators for other varieties. Due to the vagaries of plant flowering times, sometimes the males and females of the same plant will miss each other and the third wheel acts as a go between. Regardless, this mix means it is rare if not impossible for a seed from an apple to contain much of the same D.N.A. as the fruit it came from. The amount of genes in an apple (about 57,000, thought to be the highest number in the plant world) means its difficult to get that mix right. Also, being a triploid, (3 parents) carries a few problems, not the least that some chromosome simply won’t divide.

Yes, breeders do cross plants and discover new varieties, but they then reproduce them by cloning, or grafting. Taking a slip of the original tree and joining it to a new root. This can then produce more material to be taken and added to more rootstocks. Grafting means that some part of every tree is from the first parent. Every Granny Smith is a part of the first ever Granny Smith tree.

Each Bramley Apple has a thin slice of the original dessert apple in it.

For a baker, it is the equivalent of sour dough starter. You take a portion, use it but feed the original so you can keep it alive to use again and again.

So, if you do try to grow that seed, that shiny pip from you lunch box fruit tomorrow, remember, if it grows into a nice big tree and you like the fruit (which will be entirely different), the only way to share it is by slicing a bit off.

But if you do want to experiment, try Sweet Peas, or grow Courgettes near other Cucurbits such as pumpkins or cucumbers. These are notoriously promiscuous but only need two parents. The results may not be edible always but they will be interesting.

Don’t forget, it is the fruits from the plants from the seeds of the first cross that will differ. If you grow Marrows and Butternut squash on the same plot, you will get Marrows and Butternut, but if you save the seeds from them and grow them, who knows?

Righting the Wrongs Men do/ Resetting The Balance.

I am the first to admit, we men as a sex rather than a race do some stupefyingly annoying things. In the eyes of women everywhere, especially those in a relationship with us, we can be as irritating as sand in the bikini at the best of times.

But, during a chance conversation with my mother and one of my three sisters today, I had the opportunity to settle the score somewhat, in the favour of my male colleagues, my brothers-in-arms as it were.

The original discussion was between the two females and developed around the fact that one brother-in-law never takes out the recycling bin when it’s full unless asked to by his spouse. This was made out to be even more frustrating as he has to walk past it on his way to go outside for a smoke (he uses on of these ridiculous vapour things now, but still goes outside.)

After another suffering in law was berated in his absence for not putting dishes into the dishwasher but instead in the sink directly above the machine, I had to speak out in defence of the normally stronger sex, particularly as my nephew, a young teen, was being castigated along side his father for the same crimes.

As I said then, as I will always say, it is not that men don’t want to do the right thing, its just that when we thing we do, we are generally wrong anyway. Especially if we do exactly, to the letter, what we were told off for not doing previously.

An example you say?

I have often arrived home from work or the plot to find washing on the line in the garden, noticed it has started to rain so decided, in my mind correctly and helpfully, to gather in said dry laundry before it gets wet again. Good idea I hear men chorus as one.

Except for when the rain stops as suddenly as it started and the washing is in a basket in the house when lovely wife arrives home.

“Did you get the washing in?”

“Yes, it was starting to rain.”

“I was airing it. The fresh air was to freshen it up and it didn’t rain, it just spotted.”.

“Sorry, (wrong for doing right again), I’ll pop it back out if you like.”

“No (big sigh) I’ll do it myself, you always hang it wrong any way..”

Sound familiar?

I have telephoned my lovely and faultless wife before to check I should get the washing in when it’s starts to rain before now. This is because nearly thirty years of married bliss have made me question what would otherwise be obvious and logical decision.

It’s the same with the recycling bin and Big G, my poor fellow sufferer. Had he taken the bins out, emptied the cans and bottle into the outdoor bins he would possibly have incurred the not unimpressive wrath of my delightful sister had she been waiting for the bin to be empty so she could wash it out, or some similar reason.

And who hasn’t been caught out by setting of a washing cycle for just a few items or put dirty plates in with clean ones by mistake when filling a dishwasher that is actually waiting to be emptied?

How about seeing someone has started painting a wall and deciding to help by finishing the job, only to discover they were testing a colour, deciding against it and had gone off to choose a different shade of paint?

My ultimate classic husband gaff?

I used to put my used dishes, glasses or cutlery directly into the sink after use, more so if there was already soapy water and some items in there.

But now I check first.


Drinking glasses, or any glassware, doesn’t go in the same mix with roasting tins, gravy covered items or any other fatty or greasy item.

I know this now, but then, as I pointed out earlier, I’ve had nearly thirty years of training.

Happy Christmas Gentlemen, and good luck with that after Christmas Dinner minefield!


A story for the younger readers in time for Christmas.

Simon Smells A Song.(A Christmas Special)
Simon the Snowman stood still in Tony Portland’s garden while the family ran around chasing the snowflakes that fell from the grey foreboding sky. Simon could feel each flake as it landed on his cold, hard body, making him grow a tiny little amount each hour. The children had built him only a couple of days ago, when the first heavy falls had settled and the winter term at High Glenn School had ended. Tony had finished work early that day, as the snow had stopped him from travelling to several appointments. They were only complimentary calls to drop off gifts from his company to their customers so he didn’t mind too much. It meant he could indulge himself, playing with the kids and making snowmen, snow angels and even a snow donkey. Tony had loved building snowmen when he was their age and even remembered the look his creations had taken then: Two spheres with proper sausage shapes down the sides for arms and a smaller ball for the head. Tony thought the stick arms that the traditional Christmas card snowmen had was quite out of keeping with the rest of the body. He was a perfectionist even then, a twelve year old artist specialising in frozen rain.
Now, as a middle aged soap salesman with the usual 2.4 child family and suburban semi with a landscaped garden, he rarely got the chance to let loose with his creativity. Hours driving between calls left little scope for the imagination so he would picture the trucks that sped past as huge galloping beasts or the slow moving milk floats and tractors that held him up as lumbering slugs or tortoises. The towering skyscrapers made magnificent ivory castles where evil geniuses lay in wait, the motorway cafe a secret forest hideaway for him and his fellow travelling champions.
Tony had built Simon the Snowman a small igloo to stand beside him and told his offspring that he often saw the snowman slip inside when the light had faded and the moon lit the white glistening garden.
One morning, about a week after Simon had appeared, a Robin had started using the rim of his hat as a perch when he swooped into The Portland’s garden, looking for food for the brood back in the nest, hidden in a hedge just beyond the fence at the end of the lawn. Tony was a good snow designer, that was not in question, but Simon couldn’t help thinking that there must be something more functional to use as a nose. Carrots were traditional but everything smelt, well, quiet!
That was something no one not made of white cold snow knew. Everything may look like a human but the simple fact was, they didn’t function the same. Snow people heard and saw and smelt things the same as any person but not through the same organs.
When Simon smelt a beautiful perfume, like Mrs. Portland wore when she fed the birds, it was through his black coal eyes. If he saw the colours of the scarves the children wore, it was with his mouth made of little shiny pebbles.
But if, like today, a little song bird stopped by to sing a beautiful lullaby to him, it was that bright orange vegetable in the middle of his face which funnelled the sounds through to his heart. As carrots are quite thick and hard, this meant very little of the song made it through. Simon could see the bird and how its little head bobbed up and down as it trilled but he could barely make out the sounds clearly.
Simon was getting a touch depressed as the days passed and more birds would come and eat at the bird table Tony had put up for his wife. All those magnificent songs and he heard so little of them.
Then one morning, something changed.
Cherish, the little girl who helped build him all that time ago, ran into the garden all swathed in layers of woollen clothing, and threw open the door to the old wooden rabbit hutch that stood beneath the kitchen window. As she hurriedly shovelled the bedding out in a large bucket, her brother Archie took the water bottle from its mount and replaced it with a full bottle, emptied the remains from the little hopper that held the feed pellets for the rabbit and ran back into the house to fetch some fresh vegetables for the family pet.
Mrs. Portland came out with Archie shortly afterwards and started rummaging through a carrier bag for some cabbage leaves She stopped suddenly looking puzzled.
“You know, I am sure we picked up some carrots for Thumper last week Archie, but I can’t find any now!”
“Daddy gave Thumper a carrot the day before yesterday. He loves carrots Mummy!” Cherish whispered.
“What about the snowman’s carrot?” asked Archie, eyeing Simon eagerly?
“Simon won’t have a nose if you do that you silly!” laughed his sister.
Cary Portland laughed. “We have a lovely long wooden cone in the house, from the old building set your daddy had as a boy. If we use that for the snowman’s nose, Thumper can have his treat!”
So, when Tony came home that afternoon, he recognised a small part of his childhood sitting right in the middle of Simon’s face, proudly standing out making Simon a very handsome snowman indeed and bringing together two generations of his family, parents and children.
What Tony would never know though, was that his old wooden building brick was wonderful at conducting sound. Now, whenever the Robins, Starlings and Thrushes flew in to feast on old cake crumbs and suet, Simon heard a concerto of voices filling the heart of a happy old snowman.